In two weeks, there will be ceremonies in the New York City area and around the country remembering the events of ten years ago when America was attacked by terrorists.
That day has stuck with everyone since whether you were directly affected or not. This Examiner recalls sitting in his school gym finding out as if it was some weird dream. Watching the news and developments throughout that day and week was eerie at times. President George W. Bush for the most part has not been very detailed about his perspective of that day and its effect on him. That changed greatly Sunday as he gave his first in depth interview of that day and its impact on him and his presidency.
Recently, Governor Chris Christie provided some similar feedback of his memories of that day and how it dictated his outlook for the last decade. The day before, September 10, 2001, Christie’s political future was about to launch as he would be interjected into the middle of something he probably never expected. He was named the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey by President Bush. His joy of being the state’s top prosecutor turned to a somber mood by the next morning, September 11, 2001.
His first thoughts targeted his wife, Mary Pat, and brother, Todd, who were both in New York City at the time the World Trade Center towers were hit. As he recalled,
“When it first happened … all I could think about was the job — what is this going to mean? And then, once the second building was hit and I couldn’t get her on the phone for hours, I had completely forgotten about the job. And I was like, ‘What am I going to do as a father? What am I going to do if she doesn’t come home?'”
Mary Pat and Todd would both experience the hard realities of the day, but returned home to New Jersey to a waiting Chris Christie. Others, unfortunately, were not as fortunate as the then-newly selected U.S. Attorney for the state. However, Christie began to reaccess what might be expected of him 24 hours after receiving the news of his new position. As he described,
“The job I accepted on the 10th had now become 180-degree different. You are now going to be U.S. attorney when terrorism is going to the main focus.”
The elated Christie would soon face the harsh aftermath of the uncertainities following 9/11. The White House obviously had to dedicate their attention to the possible events leading up to 9/11 and its immediate impact on the country afterward. Thus, Christie’s nomination and appointment would become delayed consequently. Some Democrats like then-U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) was not exactly pleased with the choice by President Bush, but would go along with it.
The office he was about become in charge of would play a large role in the studies following 9/11. Chief among them was studying United Flight 93, which departed from Newark before ultimately crashing in Shanksville, PA instead of potentially the White House or U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. In the weeks after 9/11, Christie’s soon-to-be office also had to handle the investigation regarding letters containing anthrax that were mailed from a central New Jersey post office. Before 2001 was over, Christie was officially the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. If the pressure was not enough for him, Christie received a call from then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft that gave Christie the new circumstances of his job. Recalling his conversation, Christie stated,
“He (Ashcroft) called and said to me, ‘Congratulations. Remember, over 700 people in your district were murdered. It’s the single largest loss of life in any one district in the country. It’s your job to make sure it never happens again. That was the entire conversation.”
After being officially sworn in around the middle of January, Christie’s outlook only continued to be more challenging than he probably ever expected. Less than a week after being sworn in, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped. Pearl would be held hostage by terrorists before they would behead him. Pearl’s kidnapping was linked to an email sent from a computer located in South Brunswick. Due to that, Pearl’s kidnapping became the responsibility of New Jersey unless they wanted to ask the federal government to overstep their bounds. Christie would readdress that time by saying,
“Everyone in the country wanted that case. I was a brand-new U.S. attorney with no criminal experience. I thought there was no way they were going to give us the case. He (Ashcroft) told me, ‘This woman (Pearl’s wife) is counting on us to catch this guy before they kill her husband. We found out, obviously much later, that he was already dead.”
Those early days after 9/11 would greatly shape the type of decision maker Christie would become. The type of circumstances he had to deal with were certainly not areas and topics he most likely expected to have to deal with on September 10, 2001.
The hard hitting and quick talking Christie began to impress some in the state. One close observer was Charles McKenna, then the acting head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office. Another would be Michelle Brown, a veteran at the U.S. Attorney’s office when Christie arrived. Brown would follow Christie to Trenton when he was elected governor two years ago and when thinking about Christie she believes that,
“With the candor that has become his trademark, he told us he was not blind to the fact that he had no criminal experience but that he would be open to be taught and knew there were things to be learned. What he did promise was leadership and decision-making.”
The events and responsibilities following 9/11 forced Christie to adapt. Those days challenged him personally early on and then stretched his abilities professionally. Ten years later, that day and the role it had on his life has continued to shape him.