New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had a good reason to be far from the Manhattan courthouse today where his pals Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly are being sentenced for their roles in the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge in 2013. He was in the White House meeting with the president as he announced a very underwhelming plan to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic.
Christie must be glad to have the distraction. Bill Baroni was his choice to serve as the Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Anne Kelly served as his Deputy Chief of Staff. Kelly was just sentenced to 18 months while Baroni got two years in the hoosegow, and while he was appropriately contrite, he did not fail to allude to the fact that Christie belonged in the courtroom right along with his two former allies:
“That is why I regret, more than anything, that I allowed myself to get caught up in this and fail to help those who need it,” Mr. Baroni said, as he read from a prepared statement. “It was my job to protect them and I failed.”
He added: “I let the people in Fort Lee down. They deserve someone in my position to have tried to stop this. But I didn’t stop this. No one else is responsible for my choice.”
…“While a number of people outside of this courtroom were involved in what happened in Fort Lee that day, some charged, some not, that does not change the fact that I failed,” Mr. Baroni said in his statement. “I made the wrong choices, took the wrong guidance, listened to the wrong people. I was wrong and I am truly sorry.”
His speech may have won him a measure of leniency since the prosecutors were asking for a sentence of 37 to 46 months. They are asking for the same sentence for Kelly, but she’s hoping that her situation is sympathetic enough that she’ll avoid jail time altogether. She’s a single mother with four children, which does tend to differentiate her from others who have been caught up in this scandal. Former New Jersey attorney general David Samson, already pled guilty to bribery in a case arising out of Bridgegate, and Christie’s high school friend David Wildstein pled guilty to counts of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy against civil rights.
Somehow, Christie has avoided taking any criminal responsibility for his actions, and he’s sitting in the White House while his former Deputy Chief of Staff wonders who will raise her four kids if she has to go to prison.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s effort to combat opioid addiction is very disappointing even though one nice thing I can say about Christie is that he fully understands the issue and even excels at knowing how to talk about it.
Unfortunately, he’s not being empowered to do much of anything about it:
According to sources familiar with the draft executive order calling for the creation of the commission, the primary goal of the President’s Commission on Combating Opioid Abuse, Addiction, and Overdose would be to compile a report on the state of the opioid epidemic—along with recommendations for responding to it—by October. Members of the commission will include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The members would not be paid, but funding for the commission costs would be paid for by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The commission would be specifically tasked with identifying “federal funding mechanisms” for addiction prevention and treatment, assessing the availability of addiction treatment services, identifying best practices for addiction prevention, recommending regulatory changes in federal criminal law, reviewing barriers to response by the health care system, and evaluating existing federal programs to combat addiction and overdose.
This might sound like something significant, but it’s really not:
Skeptics maintain that the executive order is simply lip service: “If you’re serious about a commission, show me your budget and your plan to put it into action,” said one source familiar with the draft. On the campaign trail, the president vowed to spend money on addiction treatment. Yet the administration’s actions so far don’t match the promises: Repealing the Affordable Care Act would have left millions without mental health and substance abuse services. The president’s proposed budget would cut funding for the Department of Health and Human Services by 18 percent.
Furthermore, critics say, there’s the issue of redundancy: The surgeon general’s office under President Barack Obama published a very similar report in November 2016. Meanwhile, Trump has yet to appoint a director to the Office of Drug Control Policy, which is charged with evaluating and overseeing anti-drug efforts.
And I probably don’t need to mention it, but I will. There isn’t a person in a position of responsibility in the entire country who gets addiction less than Jefferson Beauregard Session III. GQ‘s Jay Willis put it well when he said of Sessions’ announced anti-drug policies: “This is what happens when law enforcement policy gets entrusted to a bigoted septuagenarian who learned everything he knows about drugs from D.A.R.E. and that very special episode of Saved By The Bell, and does not care to educate himself any further.”