Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey knew that his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him, prosecutors said on Monday.It was the first time Mr. Christie, a Republican, has been accused of knowing about the scheme as it unfolded. The prosecutors made the assertion during opening statements in the trial of two former Christie administration officials charged with closing the lanes in 2013 and then covering it up.
In May 2015, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) longtime ally, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, stemming from his role in the "Bridgegate" scandal. At the time, the Republican governor reiterated his longtime position: "I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act."
One of the enduring mysteries of this controversy is that we don't know whether or not Christie's claim is true. In May 2015, Wildstein's lawyer told reporters, "There is a lot more that will come out." He added that the governor "knew of the lane closures as they occurred" and that "evidence exists" that proves it.
Keep this in mind when reading about this morning's developments. The New York Times reported:
Remember, Christie's posture has evolved over time on this story. For months, the Garden State governor insisted the entire controversy was absurd and that his office would never conspire to punish Christie's own constituents as part of some petty and unnecessary partisan vendetta.
When evidence proved that Christie's office really did conspire to punish the governor's own constituents as part of a petty and unnecessary partisan vendetta, he claimed ignorance. Sure, top members of Christie's team orchestrated and executed the plan, but the governor, his reputation for micromanaging notwithstanding, insisted he had no idea what was going on with his own top aides who were abusing their power in his name.
According to the U.S. attorney's office, Christie's second line was as wrong as his first.
NJ.com added this morning that Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna, in his opening argument, told jurors that David Wildstein and Bill Baroni "bragged" to the governor directly about the scheme to close lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in order to cripple Fort Lee deliberately.
Christie, it's worth emphasizing, was not indicted in this case. The opening arguments pertain to criminal charges against Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, two former top aides to the governor.
Nevertheless, if there's compelling proof that Christie knew about the scheme, did nothing, and later lied about his knowledge, it seems likely that the Democratic-led legislature would at least consider impeachment proceedings against the governor, who would face renewed pressure to resign.
Christie was a finalist for Donald Trump's running mate on the 2016 Republican ticket. It's safe to say quite a few GOP officials are relieved this morning that the New Jersey governor didn't make the cut.