It has been 19 months since access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were mysteriously closed, causing massive traffic delays in the New Jersey town of Fort Lee, and more than a year since the feds began their investigation into who ordered those closures and why. And now comes word from The New York Times that indictments are expected to be handed down soon – as early as this week.
The stakes for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the presidential hopes he still nurtures are huge. Before Bridgegate, he was one of the Republican Party’s brightest stars – a charismatic Republican who’d proven he could win in a big, blue state. But now, after all of the revelations, all of the questions, all of the critical press coverage he ranks as one of the least popular candidates among Republicans.
Only 32% of Republicans say they could see themselves supporting Christie, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, compared with 57% who say they couldn’t.
But Christie still has time to undo the damage, and he has real skill as an off-the-cuff communicator – get him on the debate stage with the other Republican candidates and it’s possible he’ll have a breakthrough moment.
To pull off a comeback, though, he needs to break free once and for all from Bridgegate. For more than a year, Christie has continued to deliver denials. First, he said that there was nothing to the story at all; then, when the “time for some traffic problems” email from one of his top aides came to light, he said he didn’t have any knowledge that anyone on his team was being mischievous. He painted individuals who have been directly implicated in the closures as aides and appointees who went rogue and as liars who deceived him. And we’ve seen Christie’s very thorough attempt at self-exoneration; almost one year ago, the Mastro Report, an internal review of the lane closures commissioned by Christie, found the governor innocent.
Who we haven’t heard from: The Feds. But that’s about to change. Who will they indict? No one expects Christie himself to be indicted, but how close to him will they come? What new details will be revealed in the indictment? Will there be clues – will there be accusations – that Christie knew more than he’s let on?
Who we also haven’t heard from: Just about all of the principal players in the shutdown. They’ve not spoken publicly, even as Christie has attacked their integrity and laid the blame all on them. But they have been dealing with federal prosecutors. We will probably hear from them in this indictment. We may hear from them publicly after the indictment comes down.
Christie has endured real political damage over the last year, but he has survived, too. But now he’s about to face the real test of whether he can put Bridgegate behind him – or if it will end his White House dreams once and for all.