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.
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:
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
Andrew Cuomo: Governor
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
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.
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.
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.
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?