Chris Christie‘s presidential ambitions didn’t end this week. But the New Jersey governor has stumbled into the kind of scandal Republicans have tried in vain to hang around the neck of his fellow White House front-runner, Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of State emerged from the Benghazi controversy relatively unscathed after Republicans failed to directly implicate her in the death of four Americans at the North African outpost. The same cannot be said of Christie, who must answer for the vindictive actions of his staff even if he wasn’t personally involved in last September’s closure of two traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge. There’s no doubt this scandal is the first real tarnish on his campaign.
— Democrats are seizing the moment. Their efforts to define Christie’s during last year’s reelection bid were ineffectual — after all, it’s hard to knock a Republican when he’s on his way to a 20-point victory in a deep-blue state. Now they have a warehouse of ammunition to use. “What they’re doing now in 2014 is making up for lost time,” said one GOP senior strategist. “And they’re doubling their efforts.”
— After four years of using his proximity to New York as an advantage, the governor is also discovering the downside of running a state (partially) in the country’s largest media market. This would register as a big story anywhere, especially if the man at the center of it was a leading presidential candidate. But that the traffic jam happened next to New York has raised the outcry’s decibel level, and pushed cable networks the give the story wall-to-wall coverage.
— Influential Republicans, who have gleefully lined up behind the Jersey governor’s looming presidential campaign, will watch closely how he handles himself the next few days. His press conference Thursday, in which he said the scandal had “embarrassed and humiliated” him, appeared to be a good first step. Not to mention the swift firing of former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and the veritable excommunication of former campaign manager Bill Stepien.
So far, most party elders are standing by the governor. But on a national stage, the first real damage to Christie has been done.
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Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."
President Obama commuted the sentences of another 98 drug offenders on Thursday. Most of the convicts were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs or possession with intent to distribute. Many of the sentences were commuted to expire next year, but some will run longer. Others are required to enroll in residential drug treatment as a condition of their release.
The Department of Justice announced today it's charged "61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities."
Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."