Let me finish tonight with my take on what we’ve learned about the scandal known as “Bridgegate,” and where it might all be heading.
First, let’s keep in mind that Bridgegate has become the collective term for two different scandals that have erupted around Chris Christie’s administration–and one of them doesn’t have anything to do with a bridge.
It’s the allegation from the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey that Christie’s team tied her city’s Hurricane Sandy relief money to her approval of a big bucks commercial development project. And that commercial development project was represented by the law firm of David Samson, one of Christie’s closest confidantes and a man who until recently was serving as Christie’s handpicked chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
We know that the mayor who’s making this allegation, Dawn Zimmer, has met with the United States Attorneys’ Office and that FBI agents have been in Hoboken questioning aides to Zimmer and others who might shed light on her claims.
Where this scandal is going, no one outside of the U.S. Attorneys’ Office can say. But the smartest legal and political people that I talk to in New Jersey are paying the closest attention to what happens with Samson–in part because the Hoboken story also shined a light on other deals where he was wearing two hats: one as an appointed public official overseeing the Port Authority, the other as the head of a big politically connected private law firm. What we’ve learned about how Samson treated those two roles certainly smells funny, and we’ll see if the U.S. attorney, or anyone else with the power to prosecute, thinks there’s a legal case as well.
And then there’s the other scandal, the one you know all about. The “bridge” part of Bridgegate.As we talked about earlier, a parade of key witness has been appearing before that state legislative committee that’s looking into those mysterious George Washington Bridge lane closures. None of them have directly implicated Christie or anyone in his immediate circle in being in on the planning or in actively trying to cover it up.
But there are now multiple accounts of Christie and his inner circle being warned last October, November, and December that Bridget Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, knew about the closures as they were happening. That Bill Stepien, who was one of Christie’s top political lieutenants, knew as well. That David Wildstein, who oversaw the shutdowns, was claiming he had personally told the governor about them.
This is the part of Christie’s story I have a hard time swallowing–the idea that he was completely blindsided back in January when Bridget Kelly’s “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” emails came out: that he had had no idea before then that this was really a possibility. That he’d tried his hardest to get to the bottom of it, but that he’d been thwarted only because Bridget Kelly hadn’t been honest about her role.
When I look at all those clues, all those warnings that were in the air around Christie and in his office last September, October, and November, the first thing that I remember is that Christie himself is a former United States attorney–a tough-nosed prosecutor who wanted everyone to know how smart he was when it came to sniffing out B.S. and finding out the truth.
That guy–the Chris Christie that I remember from his days as U.S. attorney–wouldn’t have been blindsided by that Bridget Kelly email. He would have been a lot more suspicious from the start, a lot more aggressive and relentless about getting to the bottom of who really did what and who really knew what.
I haven’t seen any evidence that Chris Christie committed a crime when it comes to the George Washington Bridge lane closures, and there’s a very good chance he didn’t. But I’ve also seen a lot of evidence that when all of the details of what happened at the George Washington Bridge started to come to light, Christie’s response wasn’t to get to the bottom of it. It was to bury his head in the sand and hope it would all just go away.