What if Chris Christie’s Bridgegate wasn’t about revenge, but rather money?

The committee looking into Chris Christie’s George Washington Bridge scandal just released thousands of pages of documents received under subpoena. I’ve read a good number of them, and the documents leave little doubt in my mind that there was a conspiracy, and that Gov. Christie ordered it.

Just to backtrack a second for anyone who’s been living under a political rock of late, but the issue we’re talking about is the fact that a senior staffer to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was caught having shut down traffic on entry lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee in September of last year.

According to the Port Authority at the time, the lane closures were to perform a ‘traffic study,’ but allegations quickly surfaced alleging that the lanes were closed to punish a local mayor who didn’t support Christie’s re-election.

chris-christie-glare

The cast of characters

Even if you have been following Bridge-gate (or Bridgeghazi), the cast of characters is growing fast.  So here is a handy cast of characters to help navigate the growing mess:

New Jersey:

Chris Christie: Governor of New Jersey

Kevin O’Dowd: Chief of Staff, recently nominated to Attorney General

Bridget Kelley: Deputy Chief of Staff reporting to O’Dowd. Fired 9th Jan 2014 after tweets proved knowledge of the scheme

New York:

Andrew Cuomo: Governor

Port Authority:

David Samson: President (appointed by Christie)

Patrick J. Foye: Executive Director (appointed by Cuomo). Ordered the toll lanes re-opened shutting down the ‘traffic study’.

Bill Baroni: Deputy Executive Director (appointed by Christie). Resigned December 13th 2013.

David Wildstein: Director of interstate capital projects (appointed by Christie). Resigned December 6th

Fort Lee:

Mark Sokolich: Mayor.

Now back to the document-dump

What the documents don’t reveal is the motive. The whole project was simply too big and too noticeable for most people to believe Christie to have ordered it merely for payback.

But that is not the only possibility.  After reading the documents, I think we should be considering extortion as second possible motive. I don’t know enough about the local politics to know what Christie might have wanted. But the original draft of the traffic study might as well say ‘nice little town you have there in Fort Lee, pity if something happened to it’.

For the sake of brevity I will assume that you are already up to speed on Bridgegate, and just focus on the new material and how this changes our picture. If not, Colbert has a good intro.

Nobody could have believed the ‘traffic study’ was good faith

Until now, the reports have only told us that the ‘traffic study’ involved cutting the lanes from three to one, which implies that the throughput was reduced to a third. But this is only half the story. Fort Lee had two EZPass lanes and one cash lane. David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, closed the two EZPass lanes, and hired an extra relief collector for the cash only lane knowing that they would be doing substantially more work.

Rather than cutting throughput through the toll booths to a third, the study was intended to reduce it to a tenth. This is why the impact on Fort Lee was so severe. The impact on the EZPass lanes is only mentioned in the parts of the ‘traffic study’ draft that are struck out.

2.2059

The document dump has no communications from Christie of any kind

The subpoena from the committee investigating the scandal required all the messages received by the Port Authority staff to be delivered. While it is possible that Christie’s appointees might have deleted incriminating documents in case of subpoena, there is no reason why Cuomo’s appointees would do so. No democrat is going to risk jail to save Christie’s skin.

The documents have multiple copies of letters from the offices of the Congressman, the Mayor and the State Representative. This is the way political offices work. The officeholder asks a question, a letter is drafted, revised, approved and sent. If Christie had asked anyone in his office a question about the Port Authority, a letter would have been drafted and sent in his name. He might not have seen the letter before it was sent, but the letter would have to be written in case he asked his people what they had done about it later.

The document dump has no communications from Christie of any kind. He doesn’t even ask questions after his appointee Baroni has resigned, or when he is joking about being the man who put the cones out. According to Christie, he didn’t ask a single question until after his political opponents released the subpoenaed documents two days before his ‘apology’.

There is only one reason why Christie would not ask questions and that is if he already knew the answer. Christie is the dog that didn’t bark in the night. If Christie were telling the truth during his ‘virtuoso’ apologia performance on Thursday, he would have asked questions when Baroni resigned and when he was asked for comment by the press. Governors don’t ask for reports either, they ask for ‘all the facts’ and expect an executive summary of the events to be written just for their benefit.

Possible motives

Christie Port Authority appointee David Wildstein’s reaction when Foye, the Cuomo appointee, orders the lanes re-opened is anger. If revenge had been the only motive I would expect Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and Wildstein to have congratulated themselves for the punishment they inflicted — they’d already won, the lanes were closed, the mayor was punished. Instead they are angry, seemingly at being defeated or thwarted in their goal. This reaction makes me think that people are being too hasty in assuming that the motive was purely revenge against the mayor for not supporting Christie’s re-election.

Another aspect of the traffic study draft that is quite interesting is that the background statement clearly implies that it is being performed as part of a plan to permanently remove the Fort Lee segregated lanes. That makes me wonder if extortion or some sort of real estate scheme may have been at issue.

2.20

Or maybe the objective was to remove the Fort Lee entry ramps entirely, but trying to engineer a situation where the blame for this fell on the Mayor of Fort Lee rather than the Port Authority. Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee threatens to close the George Washington Bridge entry ramp if the continuation of the study forces him to do so. This would of course have created a major problem for the Mayor, who would take the blame for cutting Fort Lee off from the bridge. Perhaps that was the plan all along. Closing the access road would have a big impact on the local real estate market, and fortunes can be made very quickly.

After I’d written my first draft of this story, Steve Kornacki on MSNBC suggested that a billion dollar development project in Fort Lee might be the motive for the lane closures. According to Kornacki, the project was closing a round of funding while the closures were taking place. A threat to reduce the Fort Lee lanes from three to one might have been intended to scare off investors.

Or maybe the plan was for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to close the access road, allowing Christie to ride in on a white charger and sort everything out. Christie likes to play hero. Maybe he is like one of those arsonists who starts a fire so that he can be the hero that comes to the rescue. Only this arsonist didn’t just want a medal, he wanted an endorsement for his run for the White House.

Christie’s presidential hopes

The mainstream media is still trying to pretend that Christie has a hope at the 2016 presidential race. It is nonsense at every level. The Republican party hated Christie before, and the only reason Bridgegate might change their opinion is if they want Richard Nixon in the White House. But even Republicans probably don’t want to trust Christie with the NSA. He is a vicious vindictive little bully and he has a lot of scores to settle in his own party.

I suspect that the pretense has more to do with convincing us of the significance of future developments. Bridgegate will become less important after it is acknowledged that Christie’s presidential hopes are over. Or maybe the press hope that if they keep telling Christie that there is ground under his feet, he won’t notice that he has walked off the edge of the cliff and fall. Christie’s presidential chances are over but he may be delusional enough not to realize it.

The Motive is the key

Christie’s presidential hopes are dead, but he is still the Governor of New Jersey. Christie is obviously lying when he claims that he had nothing to do with the lane closures, but a lot of people are not going to believe that he was at the center of the conspiracy until they hear a motive they consider believable.

So what we need to know is what Christie might have gained from the lane closures, besides petty revenge. Kornacki has raised one deal as a possibility, but it isn’t the only one. This is where New Jersey locals might be able to help. What could Christie have gained from proposing to permanently close the Fort Lee access? Was there some political benefit or some real estate scheme?

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  • Rev. Tucker Jones

    I think you are right on this point that it was about money, but maybe Christie wanted in on the project i.e. his cut!! I would like to know whether this was an old time political shake-down? It would be good to know who made contributions to Christie re-election committee who were investors (Hudson Lights Project) before, enduring and after the bridge closing. Follow the money and see where it leads!!!
    Maybe you can answer this question for me : How did a billion dollar development project in Fort Lee, New Jersey get by Christie office without him getting credit for it in New Jersey?

  • Joe Nunnally

    Chris Christie needs to be removed from the governor’s office. Hopefully We’ll see a recall of him in 2014. here is another article about him and the GOP http://www.thedemocratictruth.com/gop/the-benghazi-stupid-and-the-chris-christie-worshippers/

  • KC Jenner

    I remember your previous article. Social Media like Twitter is good for information but you can get fired for you TWEETS. The is horrible. It is almost like Snowden… etc. (in a way) I think.

  • Guest

    the ruling class (and the corporations they control) in charge of most aspects of our economic and regulatory life.

  • Laura Davis

    tіl­&nbspі­&nbspl○○ked­&nbspat­&nbsptհe­&nbspрayсհeсk­&nbspf○սr­&nbsp $8692,­&nbspі­&nbspհave­&nbspfaіtհ­&nbsptհat…my…­&nbspfatհer­&nbspіո ­&nbsplaw­&nbspwas­&nbsplіke­&nbsprealіe­&nbspearոіոɡ­&nbspm○ոey ­&nbspрart­&nbsptіme­&nbspfr○m­&nbsptհeіr­&nbsplaрt○р..­&nbsptհere ­&nbspոeіɡհb○սr­&nbspհad­&nbspbeaո­&nbspd○іոɡ­&nbsptհіs­&nbsp4 ­&nbsp○ոly­&nbspab○սt­&nbspa­&nbspyear­&nbspaոd­&nbspby­&nbspո○w ­&nbspсleared­&nbsptհe­&nbspdeрt­&nbsp○ո­&nbsptհere­&nbspрlaсe­&nbsp aոd­&nbspb○սɡհt­&nbspa­&nbspոew­&nbspaսdі.­&nbspі­&nbspweոt­&nbsp հere,…&nbspWW&#x57&#46Googleproject2014getactivityreceipt&#x2E&#113&#114&#46&#x6E&#x65&#x74&#47&#109&#x4Bl&#x6A/

    �☭☭☭☭ ☭☭☭☭☭�☭ ☭☭☭☭ ☭☭☭That particular parcel of land was owned by the mob which tried to develop it a long time ago.

  • Buford

    The key take-away from this excellent article is worth paraphrasing again: the fact that there are no emails from Christie asking questions and demanding answers about this mess tells us that he already knew it all.

    Burn this guy.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Excellent work Mydrdin….I think you are on to something Big….and it’s mega bucks.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    That’s 3 of 12 on the upper deck. Again, it’s worth remembering there are up to 29 toll lanes for the GWB.

    By that account, Fort Lee should actually have double the lanes allocated to those on-ramps.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Thanks, great link.

    The figures in the ‘traffic study’ show where the cars passing through the toll are registered for their EZPass. This is obviously only a fraction of the number of cars using the Fort Lee entrance ramp onto the bridge.

    I had missed that point when reading the report but it is pretty obvious once you think about it. And the way that Christie kept repeating that figure is exactly the way all Republicans smirk and snear when they are canting fake statistics.

    It was not an after the fact explanation though. They were cooking the fake explanation up right from the start. They knew there was something they needed to cover up.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    And let’s not forget where Chris Christie came from: The NJ prosecutor’s office, where supposedly he had a 100% conviction rate — and his favorite targets were prominent Democrats.

  • nicho

    “Federal investigators are looking into whether New Jersey Governor Chris
    Christie used Hurricane Sandy relief funds to help get himself
    reelected.”

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/01/13-7

  • by jiminy

    Great article — but another lie has since been debunked. According to this story, quoting several executives from the Port Authority, the lanes closed actually carried 25% to 26% of entering traffic, while representing 25% of the entering lanes (3 of 12). The idea that Fort Lee was getting special treatment is a flat out falsehood. The lanes were used by several other cities, and provided no special advantage to anyone. This after-the-fact “explanation” was just another politically motivated lie. Here’s the article

    http://www.northjersey.com/fortlee/Justification_for_GWB_study_was_flawed_from_the_start.html

  • MyrddinWilt

    I have to check up. But Christie denied knowing the details of the study last thursday but quoted actual numbers from it on the Dec 2nd conference.

    Christie is now claiming to have known nothing about a report that he used in his defense in the previous ‘save his skin’ press conference six weeks ago.

    Possible motives here could be to extort a bribe from the developers or to collect on a bribe from the mob. That particular parcel of land was owned by the mob which tried to develop it a long time ago. Only the deal went south after the Mayor wore a wire rather than accepting a half million dollar bribe.

    Maybe there is some mob boss who is really desperate to make sure he is the guy who develops that parcel and will destroy any other attempt to build there. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that an arrogant vicious bully like Christie would be on their payroll. After all what other sort of guy comes into office with a bunch of goons ready to do his dirty work for him?

  • MyrddinWilt

    Yes, but that is the same mistake they made with Clinton.

    The dog that didn’t bark means a lot. The dog that barks all the time, yap yap yap, means nothing at all. By the time Freeh, Starr and the republicans got Clinton on an actual scandal they had already made over a dozen bogus accusations.

    Clinton might well have been removed from office for perjury if that had been their first attempt. But after years of Vince Foster was murdered by Hilary to cover up the travel office firings which were so that Bill could fly cocaine into the US on airforce one to buy land in Whitewater, people just didn’t want the loathesome creeps to win. The way they entrapped Clinton was transparently corrupt, far worse than anything he was accused of.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Notice there’s one guy with his fingers in all three fake scandals? Darrell Issa is the reincarnation of Dan Burton from the 1990s. He was convinced that if he dug hard enough, he would find some scandal to pin on Bill Clinton. And he went hunting for anything at all. He wasted billions of tax payer dollars and countless hours of Congressional time, and came up with nothing. Issa is repeating his mistakes, abusing the power he was granted by being given a committee chairmanship in the self-assurance that he can find something, anything, to pin on Obama, as long as he digs hard enough. The House, and John Boehner specifically, are letting him get away with it. No matter how much it makes them look like utter fools.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    The question is, why does a staffer even have the authority to make such a call? Because anything that comes out of his mouth is assumed to be coming from directly from the Governor himself. So no matter how you want to skew it, Christie is entirely at fault. The very best scenario for him at this point is that he appointed a bunch of psychos who he had no control over, and was absolutely inept at running his own office.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’m with you, Myrddin: I think Christie was in this up to his eyeballs. And my reasons for concluding thus are still somewhat circumstantial, but in the last day or so, one particular detail kept jumping out at me. Back on December 2nd, this was part of his belligerently sarcastic “I moved the cones myself” response to the initial inquires — for a scandal he now claims he knew nothing substantive about until just last week.

    Gov. Christie (Dec 2): “The fact is, I didn’t know Fort Lee got three dedicated lanes until all this stuff happened, and I think we should review that entire policy because I don’t know why Fort Lee needs three dedicated lanes to tell you the truth, and I didn’t even know it until this whole, you know, happening went about, so my urging to the Port Authority is to begin a review of the whole policy. Because I’ve sat in that traffic, before I was governor, at the George Washington Bridge, and the fact that one town has three lanes dedicated to it, that kind of gets me sauced.”

    First of all, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it supposedly bugged him so much that a set of on-ramps just before the bridge usually had their traffic directed to three lanes on the upper level, when there are some 29 toll lanes in total for the bridge. Moreover, in testimony Baroni tried to claim that Fort Lee-entering traffic only comprised 4.5% of all bridge traffic — when in fact that percentage was only those drivers using EZPass (and listed as having a Fort Lee area home address), and I have yet to see an instance when most drivers are using those automated toll passes as opposed to paying cash. Finally, the only reason for the dedicated lanes in the first place was to reduce side-swipe accidents.

    So why, out of all the details about the traffic study incident that Christie claims he didn’t know about was the one he felt most free to bluster and snark about five weeks ago this whole “three dedicated lanes for one town” canard? And why try to make it sound incredibly unfair that Fort Lee, the town, had these lanes when in fact just because a vehicle uses the Fort Lee on-ramp, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is, by definition, from Fort Lee originally.

    Unless perhaps the point to be made right from the start was to get it out there that the GWB Port Authority might just make Fort Lee a very unpleasant place with respect to traffic. And why else would he do that if the entire point wasn’t to scuttle a lucrative redevelopment project? One that back in August and September had not yet secured funding.

    Maybe there was a little revenge in mind for the lack of an endorsement, but in my experience, money is a far more powerful motivation. Let’s not forget how Nixon’s VP, Spiro Agnew, was brought down for accepting bribes back when he’d been Governor of Maryland.

    Again, out of all the things Christie now claims he was ignorant about, the one he apparently knew and expounded upon was his feeling of personal offense at three toll lanes being dedicated to traffic entering at Fort Lee. I honestly can’t think of any reason to emphasize — and deliberately mislead regarding — that particular detail, other than to get the message out there that Fort Lee is a terrible place to consider any substantial redevelopment project. I think at the core of it, we’ll eventually learn that either Christie was rebuffed in “wetting his beak” in the project, so to speak, or else he or his political allies had a competing project in mind for the location.

    The “dog that didn’t bark” is also telling, in my opinion. In all these emails, texts, memos and other communications, not once does Christie appear. Yet he supposedly knew enough about the “traffic study” to speak out in favor of it not once but multiple times in public. And further to make it clear that he agreed all the traffic from the Fort Lee on-ramps should be compressed and directed to a single lane and toll booth, despite ample evidence and proof from the phony “study” itself that doing so resulted in epic congestion, traffic jams, and hours-long delays for motorists.

  • Indigo

    Well . . . that’s the “liberal” media for you.

  • Indigo

    LOL! He is that

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Republicans love angry bullies now, and think that’s what everybody wants. Sadly, the mass media often takes GOP wish-lists and mistakenly projects them onto the entire electorate.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    He’s larger than life?

  • Indigo

    Apart from backslapping with the president after Hurricane Sandy, what exactly is it that makes Christie a viable candidate for the presidency?

  • MyrddinWilt

    The key thing is that as we add more facts the picture looks worse rather than better.

    The IRS scandal was nothing more than Daryl Issa misrepresenting an investigation that had examined both liberal and conservative political groups trying to claim tax exemption status as only targeting liberals.

    The only scandal in Fast and Furious is that the NRA and GOP prevent the US from passing effective gun control laws and from enforcing the few that they have.

    Nothing that was known then and nothing that has been discovered since has disproved the version of events given by the administration after the attack. The reason that the GOP began attacking Obama over Benghazi was to muddy the waters after candidate Romney broke his campaign truce to gleefully attack Obama while the attack was going on. There is still no evidence to support the GOP version of events. While it ‘might have happened’ that is hardly proof that it did and even if it was that would not prove Christie lied.

  • UncleBucky

    There’s better ways to conduct a study than to kill the subjects, I mean, victims.

  • Drew2u

    Damn those Chicago politics! Wait, what?

  • cole3244

    someone in the local nj media know or can find out what was behind the lane closings, if they decide to not do the job of the fourth estate that will be another nail in the coffin of democracy.

  • Badgerite

    This is what I found so completely unbelievable about Christie’s version of events. How could someone like him have had so little interest in why the lane closures occurred due to the orders of his hand picked people on one of the busiest bridges in the world and when that closure had such an impact on his own constituents? That just does not seem even remotely believable and certainly not when you consider Christie’s personality. (He’s not known for being timid. Quite the contrary)
    The only reason I can think of for the Governor of New Jersey to not have seriously looked into the matter and discovered just what was discovered is that he already knew and was trying to cover it up.

  • Bookbinder

    Nixonesque, yes. Not a blowjob, not the IRS, not Benghazi. Abuse of power. Christie the Bully fits so well into the Tough Guy brand. And he can’t ever prove himself innocent. Everyone knows orders like this are given orally, with a wink and a nod..Everyone knows a staffer would not go so far on their own. And worst for Christie, the multiple investigations underway are bound to find vindictive actions in the past which will reinforce continuing suspicions. Stick a fork in him. Christie’s done.

  • MyrddinWilt

    Well it took the whole weekend to read all the docs and write the piece. I had already concluded that a real estate scheme must be behind it before Kornacki went on air and Josh Marshall independently came to the conclusion that there was something else up.

    So I think a lot of people were digging deeper but maybe not as fast as you might like. It took over a year for Woodward and Bernstein to get to the bottom of Watergate. It seems to me that we have saved all the appearances on Bridge gate in three months.

    We probably haven’t got to the bottom of all Christie’s corruption yet. But we do have absolute proof of a conspiracy involving at least three Christie appointees: Kelly, Wildstein and Baroni. We know that the traffic study was a fraud and that the purpose was to cause chaos in Fort Lee. We know that Christie had a billion dollar motive for ordering the chaos.

    All that we are lacking at this point is direct proof that Christie ordered the closures. But we already have Wildstein offering to sing like a canary if he gets immunity.

    The next figures to watch are Samson, the President of the PA and O’Dowd. That is why I added them to the cast of characters even though they have been absent from discussions so far. O’Dowd must have known what Kelly was up to. O’Dowd’s participation was essential as he controls access to the Governor. If Christie’s story is true, the whole scam would have fallen apart if either Kelly or O’Dowd mentioned the issue to Christie. So both the chief of staff and their deputy were essential to the scheme.

    And Christie knows that of course but instead of sacking O’Dowd he is nominating him for Attorney General. Which would of course put him in charge of investigating the whole scheme and in particular deciding if anyone got immunity in return for testifying against the Governor and himself.

  • Quilla

    “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening?”

    Sandy.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    I saw this over the weekend. I record Up every week (Steve Kornacki is the most adorkable person on tv these days). I was wondering if anyone was ever going to dig deeper or just repeat the same stuff over and over. Thanks, Steve for doing some actual reporting and not just sitting behind a desk and regurgitating “inside sources”.

  • Strepsi

    “Christie is obviously lying when he claims that he had nothing to do with the lane closures” – yes.

    Christie and our Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are in exactly the same predicament: they have built personal brand reputations as total hands-on micro-managers in the loop on every single project. Now they ask us to believe that a cabal of people in their own office orchestrated a conspiracy without their knowledge? It is not just implausible, it is impossible to believe.

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