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Chris Christie Fires Schools Chief for Christie’s Lie About Race to the Top

Here’s an amusing story about everybody’s favorite conservative Governor, New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

So the Race to the Top program announced its recipients this week, and New Jersey was left off the list. It later came out that they were deducted point because of an error on their application. They put budget information for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 in a place where the application called for budget years 2008 and 2009. That deduction was enough to knock them out of the RttT funding.

First, Christie whined about it and blamed the Obama Administration. Then he said that the whole thing was a “clerical error,” and that his state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler actually tried to correct it. But alas, the videotape doesn’t lie:

A video released by the federal Department of Education shows that a piece of Gov. Christie’s explanation about what went wrong when the state made a $400 million mistake on a grant application may also have been wrong.

Thursday afternoon, the federal Department of Education released video of the presentation. Spokesman Justin Hamilton said it was being released ahead of schedule because of the interest in the saga, but he would not comment on it further.

The video seems to contradict Christie’s account of the data being provided on the spot. In the video, a panelist points out the error and asks for the correct data. Some education officials seated with Schundler can be seen flipping through binders trying to find it. A half-hour later, near the end of the questioning, a panelist unseen in the video again asks if the numbers had been found. The state officials say they hadn’t been.

On New Jersey 101.5 (WKXW-FM) Thursday night, Christie said he had just heard about the video and had not seen it. He said he planned to review it later.

So today, after a review, Christie fired Schundler, saying that Schundler “misled” him about the contents of the tape:

“I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape of the Race to the Top presentation was not consistent with the information provided to me,” Christie said in a press release. “As a result, I ordered an end to Bret Schundler’s service as New Jersey’s Education Commissioner and as a member of my administration.”

Schundler is the former mayor of Jersey City (a Democratic city) and a candidate for Governor in 2001.

Christie does hold Schundler accountable for what he calls “lying to me,” but hasn’t held himself accountable for publicly siding with Schundler before getting independent verification of the facts. As the Star-Ledger editorial board says, “Schundler may not be at fault in this latest episode. The governor is the one who made the false claim.”

But accountability doesn’t reach to the top, at least not in New Jersey.

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David Dayen

David Dayen