FORT LEE, New Jersey – Democrats are marking the one-year anniversary of Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal by hammering the New Jersey Republican governor and making sure Americans don’t forget about the allegedly politically-motivated lane closures and epic traffic jams that ensnared thousands of people for four days this time last year.
At a bluff overlooking the George Washington Bridge on Monday, Democratic National Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said, “The bottom line here is that Chris Christie should be insisting on getting to the bottom of this.” The Florida congresswoman added, “It happened on his watch. If he was, as he’s saying, completely uninvolved in the closure of those lanes and the gridlock that his administration caused a year ago, then he should be leading the charge, not criss-crossing the country, beginning a run for the presidency, testing the waters.”
The governor recently returned from a trip to Mexico, a visit that is fueling speculation he’s seriously considering a 2016 presidential run, and is trying to beef up his foreign policy credentials and win over potential Hispanic voters. Christie has also visited a number of states, including the political powerhouse states of Iowa and New Hampshire as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Christie’s popularity took a hit after e-mails were made public that some of the Republican governor’s staffers and allies ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge — seemingly for political retribution against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich back in September. Christie has denied any prior knowledge of the plot.
Democrats on Monday also launched a geographically-targeted ad blitz to remind New Jersey and New York commuters about the traffic gridlock.
Christie’s office declined to comment for this story.
Wasserman Schultz said more questions needed to be answered, like why the lanes were closed in the first place. Even though no evidence has tied Christie directly to the lane closures, the congresswoman argued Christie created an environment based on intimidation and bullying that led his top staffers and allies to believe closing lanes on the nation’s busiest bridge as a means of political payback was okay.
Christie “doesn’t even seem interested in getting the answers,” she said.
A state legislative committee has been investigating the lane closures. Christie’s administration is also under a federal investigation regarding his staffers’ plot.
Christie has maintained that he was completely unaware of the plot. However, an email was made public showing his top aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent a now-infamous message to a Port Authority executive, saying “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Christie has since fired Kelly and cut ties with his former campaign manager Bill Stepien, who called Sokolich, an “idiot.”
The governor commissioned a separate, internal investigation into the lane closures — costing New Jersey taxpayers more than $7 million. The firm released its report clearing the Republican governor of any wrongdoing on March 27. But the internal report was immediately criticized by its opponents who argued it wasn’t independent, did not involve key people at the center of the scandal, and was being done by a law firm with known ties to the governor. Polls have shown that New Jersey voters are also skeptical of the report.
Meanwhile, there have been new developments in the bridge scandal. Port Authority police officers working at the bridge during the closures said they were told to keep quiet by their supervisors when they expressed reservations about the lane closures on a two-way radio. According to a summary of the officers’ accounts, one supervisor told an officer to “shut up” then told him not to discuss the plan over an open radio.
At the press conference, State Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman once again called for Christie’s resignation. The Democrat had served on the committee investigating the lane diversions but quit in February after her calls for the governor to step down came under criticism from Republicans.
Watson Coleman said she learned firsthand from serving on the committee that “the governor and his allies and his former aides would do anything possible to stonewall the information to hide the truth and to deflect the responsibilities. That pattern extends far beyond Bridgegate. And it is the core of Team Christie operatives.”
Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University Polling Institute, told msnbc that because of the lack of evidence there has been Bridgegate fatigue among Americans. “They haven’t seen anything new in months about this…The Democrats have to be very careful about not wanting to seem having a vendetta on Christie because it will backfire on them.” He added, however, “It’s not over yet. It won’t be over until the U.S. attorney completes its investigation. If some sort of indictments come down, it could all change.”