With a guilty plea by one former ally and indictments handed down for two other appointees, the scandal of “Bridgegate” appears to be figuratively falling down onto Chris Christie’s presidential prospects. U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, reported that no other indictments would be handed down at this time. He further indicated that no current evidence links Christie directly to the September 2013 lane closures on the George Washington Bridge; reportedly political retribution toward the Fort Lee mayor’s failure to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign. GOP strategists say that the “Bridgegate” scandal is burning bridges for much of Christie’s national support.
Meet the Conspirators Involved
David Wildstein, a Christie Port Authority appointee, pleaded guilty earlier Friday to one charge of conspiracy to commit fraud on federally funded property and one civil rights violation. He was one of Bridgegate’s chief planners for lane closures under the guise of traffic studies that would gridlock traffic over the bridge for four days. Testimony pointed to the strategic timing of the closures to maximize the impact during the beginning of the school year. Prosecutor Fishman stated in his announcement of the guilty plea that these callous actions “victimized the people Fort Lee” to “carry out a vendetta.” Sadly, all New Jersey residents are paying the price for the “Bridgegate” scandal that has already cost over $11 million in legal fees, according to state department reports.
Further “Bridgegate” indictments included Bridget Ann Kelly, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Christie and Bill Baroni, a Port Authority Deputy Director. Charges included wire fraud, conspiracy and civil rights violations. Bridget Kelly took to the airwaves following the indictment calling Wildstein “a liar” and saying she felt betrayed by Christie following her firing. She finds the contention that she is the only Christie staffer who knew of the lane closures “ludicrous.” The smoking gun of her involvement in the conspiracy is an email from Kelly to Wildstein saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein then replied, “Got it.”
Christie Denies Any Involvement
Christie has repeated denied any direct involvement in the Bridgegate scandal, even as indictments and allegations swirl within his former senior staff and appointees. Although Wildstein did not implicate Christie in his courtroom testimony, his attorney, Alan Zegas, repeated claims of evidence existing that Christie at least knew about the lane closure scheme. Friends from high school, Wildstein and Christie were together at a public ceremony on the third day of the bridge lane closures. With local Fort Lee public officials already steaming over the gridlock, speculation is that the topic was surely discussed considering Wildstein’s direct coordination of bridge resources. Once the scandalous emails were released publicly, Christie immediately began cleaning house within his cabinet. He fired staff believed to be involved or implicated and instituted an independent investigation that eventually exonerated him directly. Christie continued to cooperate with the investigation transparently, even testifying before the investigative committee. The announcement of U.S. Attorney, Fishman, that no further indictments are to follow is undoubtedly the best outcome that Christie could have hoped for. While his hopes might be rising, Republican insiders are worried that the Bridgegate scandal might be falling down directly onto Christie’s presidential aspirations.
Fallout From Scandal Could Dim Christie’s Prospects
After winning re-election two years ago in the very democratic state of New Jersey, Christie’s star seemed to be burning brightly. With popularity polling in the 60’s and hands-on-involvement in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, national Republican powers approached him again for 2016 presidential consideration. Recently, a Quinnipiac University poll showed only 38 percent of New Jersey voters approve of his performance as governor. This is the lowest favorable polling to date for Christie and it has some big GOP donors worried that his potential campaign could be tainted.
Christie plans to spend time in New Hampshire in the coming weeks, the location of the first presidential primary. He will hold town-hall meetings and spend time with donors, alike. He plans to announce any official campaign in June after gauging public sentiment following these revelations. Still, with very untimely court proceedings looming, it appears that the “Bridgegate” scandal is rapidly falling down onto Christie’s presidential prospects.
By Chris Marion
Photo by Wally Goebetz – Creativecommons Flickr License