Wall Street sees Christie down, but not out
The early consensus among New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's many Wall Street supporters is that the George Washington Bridge flareup has hurt him but barring any new revelations, it will not derail his possible presidential candidacy in 2016.
In emails and phone calls, would-be Christie donors tell me the governor did what he needed to do in his nearly two-hour news conference on Thursday, firing the aide who sent the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email and proclaiming himself deeply embarrassed and very sorry that the incident took place.
The Republican governor said over and over that he knew nothing about the effort to shut down entrance lanes to the bridge in an apparent attempt to punish the Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for failing to endorse Christie's re-election bid.
"As I hoped and expected, Governor Christie was forthright, sincere, seriously embarrassed and unequivocally apologetic," Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot and a major Christie Wall Street supporter, told me in an email from Vietnam.
Other Wall Streeters who watched the presser said Christie performed well but that if any documents or interviews come out in the many ongoing investigations suggesting the governor did know something about the closures, his career is likely over.
"He didn't do too badly," said a top executive at one of the largest firms on Wall Street. "As long as it's all true."
Christie was as unequivocal as he could possibly be that he did nothing to direct the lane closures. But some questions remain.
Among them: How did Christie's appointee at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, know to shut down the lanes with only a single instruction from now-former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly? Some observers suggested the terse email exchange, in which Wildstein simply replied "got it," suggested it might not have been the first time this type of activity took place.
Others asked why Christie talked on Thursday about having a couple of sleepless nights when he claimed to have only learned of the damning emails on Wednesday? And why did Christie repeatedly say that there may indeed have been some kind of "traffic study" involved in the lane closures? Why is the governor clinging to that possible explanation when the true reason for the closures is now known? Are there documents suggesting someone tried to make the closures look like a traffic study after the fact?
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There remains significant risk for Christie that new facts will emerge as the lane closures are now the subject of a preliminary inquiry by the U.S. Attorney's Office, probes in the state legislature and likely hearings in the U.S. Congress. That means months of subpoenas and attendant leaks from Christie political opponents. It also means witnesses who will pressured to give up information on their superiors.
None of it may wind up implicating Christie but all of it will be distracting and all of it will remind people that in the best case scenario the governor employed top aides who felt it was a good idea to put people's lives at risk for some petty political payback.
That feeds directly into the biggest political knock on Christie: That he is a bully who will use whatever tactics are at his disposal to crush his opponents. And you can count on both Christie's potential GOP primary opponents and his general election opponent, should he get that far, to use the bridge issue to hammer him in 2016.
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Look for opponents to emphasize that in his press conference, Christie seemed much more upset that his aides lied to him rather than about the appalling underlying conduct. He emphasized that he fired Kelly for lying, rather than because she disrupted tens of thousands of lives and delayed first responders. Elements of the press conference will surely make their way into attack ads should Christie run for president, as most expect he will.
Still, the controversy thus far has not deterred people like Langone who are eager to set up a Super PAC to raise big money to help support Christie in early primary and caucus states such as New Hampshire and Iowa. But as another Wall Streeter told me, the money and support could vanish quickly if anything else comes to light. "People like him, but they don't really know him all that well," this person said. "They don't follow him super closely. He's relatively new on the scene."