Former Christie aide pleads guilty in 'Bridgegate' scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, on Feb. 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivers his budget address for fiscal year 2016 to the Legislature, on Feb. 24, 2015 at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J.
After dominating headlines for a while last year, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) "Bridgegate" scandal seemed to largely fade from public view. The Republican governor liked to pretend the story was over, and he said the abuse scandal shouldn't undermine his presidential ambitions
But the investigation didn't end, and today, it snared a top former Christie ally.
We learned this morning that Wildstein and his co-conspirators from Team Christie deliberately chose to cripple Fort Lee, New Jersey on the first day of school in September 2013. The idea was to maximize the impact of their scheme, and choosing the day in which schools opened meant exacerbating the traffic gridlock.
Wildstein also admitted this morning that he ignored calls for relief from Fort Lee's mayor.
As for the lingering questions as to why, exactly, the governor's aides sought to punish the community so severely, WNBC's report noted that Wildstein "told a judge the intent of the lane closures ... was political retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for failing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid."
That was why it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Wildstein, a longtime Christie ally, did not directly implicate the governor in the dangerous scheme, instead saying this morning that "he came up with the plans along with Bridget Kelly, who was Christie's deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, who was Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority."
Wildstein will be sentenced on August 6. We do not yet know any details about what kind of deal he struck with prosecutors in exchange for his guilty plea.
As for his former boss, Christie was asked Wednesday about the impact of the scandal on his presidential ambitions. "I don't think that has anything much to do with me," he said.
Long-time readers probably realize the truth is more complicated than that. One of the central problems for Christie from the very beginning is that the governor's best case scenario -- the version of events that are the most favorable to him personally -- is that Christie was such an inept and incompetent leader that has no idea that some of the top members of his team conspired to abuse their power in his name.
The governor, in other words, was guided by willful ignorance, clueless to the events unfolding around him, even those involving dangerous actions taken by people in his own office.
Under normal conditions, this might sound like scathing criticism, but in Christie's case, it's his best defense. The governor's backers hope to argue  that Christie's aides crippled a New Jersey community on purpose for partisan political reasons, but the governor was simply too ignorant to be properly blamed.
So vote for Christie ... because of his managerial skills?
Making matters worse, this isn't the end of the bridge scandal and it's not the only scandal surrounding the New Jersey Republican.
Look for more on this on tonight's show.