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Vox Sentences: The Bridgegate trial made Chris Christie look even worse than people thought

Cultural pathology at the FBI; in a world very similar to our own, you'd be reading "GOP VP candidate implicated as aides convicted of fraud" heds today; Rolling Stone suffers a court defeat over its debunked rape story.

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The derp state

Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • Over the past week, it's become clear something very weird is going on at the FBI. [The Guardian / Spencer Ackerman]
  • There's substantial evidence that a faction of FBI agents — particularly at the bureau's New York field office — really want Donald Trump to become president, and are very mad that their agency isn't going after Hillary Clinton. [The Daily Beast / Wayne Barrett]
  • And somehow — whether he's hearing it from current FBI agents or former ones — Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani (who worked closely with the FBI earlier in his career) is hearing about this discontent, and also, maybe, finding out about the FBI's investigations into Clinton before the public does. [Gothamist / Rebecca Fishbein]
  • FBI Director James Comey appears to have been aware of this dynamic; it's part of why he notified Congress on Friday of a new batch of emails in the Clinton case. But instead of preempting disgruntled leaks, he simply opened the floodgates. [Reuters / Mark Hosenball]
  • This can look ominous to Clinton supporters: some sort of "deep state" coup. That's not entirely fair; the intelligence services aren't synonymous with the FBI. The culture at the CIA is as different from the FBI's as could be. [Government Executive / Siobhan Gorman]
  • And it is not like the FBI has always been a paragon of impartiality and adherence to the rule of law. (In fact, if this scandal is what's tarnished your view of the FBI, you should read up on its history.) [NYT / Tim Weiner]
  • What does appear to be a trend, though, is that some of Trump's strongest supporters are active law enforcement officials (from local police to border patrol agents) who are taking their support for Trump and his ideology as a professional duty. [Washington Post / Philip Bump]
  • This is a matter of institutional culture, and institutional culture is extremely hard to change — a lesson that James Comey (who's said that if he couldn't make the FBI less white and less male, he'd have failed) knows all too well. [Huffington Post / Nick Baumann]
  • But it certainly raises questions about the bureau's ability to investigate, say, the Democratic National Committee's concerns that their offices may have been bugged. [Mother Jones / David Corn]

Time for some traffic problems in Chris Christie’s backtracking

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
  • Two former government officials and close associates of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have been convicted on conspiracy and fraud charges for their roles in the "Bridgegate" scandal of 2013. [WSJ / Corinne Daley]
  • (If you cannot remember that far back in history, a quick review: The New Jersey Port Authority closed several lanes on the George Washington Bridge, causing serious traffic problems in Fort Lee — whose mayor had declined to endorse Christie for reelection. It later came out that at least some of the officials making the lane-closure decisions saw it as political payback. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • The trial was expected to reveal information that would look bad for Christie (who continues to maintain he knew nothing). But it has gone, in the words of one former aide, even "worse than anyone expected." [WSJ / Josh Dawsey and Ted Mann]
  • Remember: If Donald Trump had gotten his way, this man would be the Republican Party's nominee for vice president right now. (Former campaign manager Paul Manafort reportedly persuaded Trump to go with Mike Pence — even pretending Trump's plane had broken down and grounded him in Indiana for another night — because the Bridgegate scandal would compromise Trump's claim to superior ethics.) [New York Post / Aaron Short]
  • As it is, Christie is still leading Trump's transition team — which is responsible for, among other things, coming up with shortlists for top government posts. [Politico / Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook]
  • (It is not hard to imagine how this could go badly for the federal government.) [Vox / Dara Lind]

It’s always cheaper to get the story right

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic
  • A Virginia jury has decided that Rolling Stone and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely are liable for defamation against former University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo, after a 2014 Rolling Stone feature about rape on UVA's campus turned out to rest on a fabricated story. [Washington Post / T. Rees Shapiro]
  • Legally speaking, this isn't a conviction; it's a civil finding of liability (Eramo is asking for $7.5 million) that required the jury to find Rolling Stone and the reporter had acted with "actual malice" in publishing the story of supposed rape victim "Jackie" without verifying it first. [The Daily Beast / Lizzie Crocker]
  • (The magazine's also been sued by the fraternity where the rape was alleged to have taken place; a federal lawsuit in New York by three of the men who allegedly participated has been thrown out.) [The Federalist / Leslie Loftus]
  • The "Jackie" story has been a huge problem for Rolling Stone since it came out. It was supposed to be a blockbuster — Rubin Erdely was being paid $300,000 by the magazine to write three features a year — and instead, it destroyed the publication's integrity. [NBC 29 via WVIR]
  • In a Columbia Journalism Review audit in 2015, the authors concluded that the problem hadn't been that Rolling Stone didn't have resources — it was a problem of methodology. Editors and reporters just didn't point out flaws in "Jackie's" story quickly or proactively enough. [Columbia Journalism Review / Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll, and Derek Kravitz]
  • For skeptics of sexual-assault activism, the "Jackie" saga has been a cautionary tale: They argue it exposes the problems with the idea that women who claim to be survivors of assault should be trusted and supported by default. [Reason / Robby Soave]
  • But it's a little more complicated. It is simultaneously true that the first response to a claim of sexual assault should not be to assume it's a lie, and that, to take survivors seriously, it's necessary to make sure they're telling the truth. [Vox / Amanda Taub]


  • More than 100 pro-Trump websites are being run from a single town. In Macedonia. And a number of the most popular Macedonian Trump sites are run by teenagers. [BuzzFeed / Craig Silverman and Lawrence Alexander]
  • A slew of new companies offers genetic tests that purport to tell you how you should be exercising or dieting, given your genome. These tests are garbage. [STAT / Rebecca Robbins]
  • This transcript of a Kenyan government official threatening to hack a journalist's computer and workplace if she doesn't kill a story has to be read to be believed. [Daily Nation]
  • How one simple statistical mistake ruined English soccer for decades. [FiveThirtyEight / Joe Sykes and Neil Paine]
  • Jay Faison has learned the hard way that even spending $175 million of his own money isn't enough to move the Republican Party on climate change. [Bloomberg / Zachary Mider]


  • "Think how many other aspects of our lives are profoundly influenced by good sight and deep eros, and ask yourself what might loom equally large in an elephant’s world that we ourselves would have very little grasp of." [New Atlantis / Caitrin Nicol Keiper]
  • "Testimony at trial this week has often been laced with racial epithets, but Hebert said although the word 'nigger' was used a lot around the Sheriff's Office, he didn't view it as a racist term because it was used in reference to drug dealers and gang members and not minority residents in general." [The Acadiana Advocate / Richard Burgess]
  • "You think that this one-day fly, this little bit of nothing, a human being — according to today's cosmology! — can figure it all out? This to me seems so crazy! It cannot possibly be true! What they figured out is one particular response to their actions, and this response gives this universe, and the reality that is behind this is laughing! 'Ha ha! They think they have found me out!'" [Paul Feyerabend to Scientific American / John Horgan]
  • "'No pushing, no pushing!' Noel yelled. 'There is enough for everyone!' It wasn’t true. The latecomers got nothing." [Washington Post / Nick Miroff]
  • "According to an unfair labor practices charge filed on Thursday with a National Labor Relations Board regional office, Thomas Nagle, a longtime employee of the Trader Joe’s store on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was repeatedly reprimanded because managers judged his smile and demeanor to be insufficiently 'genuine.' He was fired in September for what the managers described as an overly negative attitude." [NYT / Noam Scheiber]

Watch this: What 33,000 pages of leaked emails teach us about Hillary Clinton

No bombshells here. But it's worth a peak behind the curtain. [YouTube / Jeff Stein, Liz Scheltens, Carlos Waters]