Governor Chris Christie insists he fired Education Commissioner Bret Schundler because Schundler “misled” him about an application mistake that may cost New jersey hundreds of millions in education grants. Schundler said he never misled Christie and now says Christie is not being truthful about the incident.
“Misled” is one way to put it. The other (equally true) way to put it is that Christie is calling Schundler a liar and Schundler is now calling Christie a liar. These things happen in politics, but for the first time since taking office, Christie is not using the bully pulpit or taking on a public fight. He’s refusing to directly respond to Schundler’s accusation that he’s lying.
It’s not my place to say this is a good or bad strategy on Christie’s part, but I can say it is a wholesale departure from the Christie style of governing that the press corps has come to expect.
Today, when asked about Schundler’s remarks Christie said, “I don’t have anything more to say on that. I’ve said exactly what I’ve had to say on that topic and I don’t have anything else to say about it……I have told you exactly what went on in that conversation (with Schundler) and I’m not going to get any further or deeper into this.”
“I think my actions in this regard from the minute I’ve gotten into office forward speak louder than anything else and I’m just not going to get into any more of these specifics,” said Christie. “I think the things that have happened over the course of the last week are sad. They really are and it’s not what I wanted to happen……..I have great respect for commissioner Schundler’s passion for education reform and for his commitment to those issues and that’s why I picked him in the first place……..He and I had many other disagreements before this that everybody chronicled very, very carefully so it’s not like I was looking for an excuse to do something.”
Initially Christie said he was not going to fire anyone over the mistake. He admitted he was not happy about it and said Schundler wasn't happy about it either. Two days later Christie fired Schundler.
Christie said he was first told by Schundler that when the commissioner went in for a personal interview two weeks before the grant decision was made Schundler verbally gave the 08 and 09 state budget numbers that the application was seeking. Christie claimed the 08/09 comparison supports the state getting the full five points.
The following day Christie had a lot to answer for after the Obama Administration released a video tape showing Schundler and his aides were unable to answer questions about the error.
Yesterday, Schundler sent out an e-mail which read in part, "On Thursday, the Obama Administration released a video tape that proved (Christie’s) statement was untrue. The Governor was embarrassed. Rather than acknowledge his culpability for the false statement, he fired me - his Commissioner of Education - charging that I had given him and his staff bad information on the point in question. But I had not. I had given them correct information. The Governor's charge against me is false."
Again, as politely put as it may be it is clear Schundler is calling Christie a liar. Thus far, the Governor is not addressing that issue head-on.