Four Ways to Understand Bridgegate

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Update: New documents have been released by the legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

By the end of the day on Thursday, a state governor and 2016 presidential contender had admitted to being "blindsided" and "humiliated" by his staff, had personally apologized to a mayor in his state, and had fired a deputy chief of staff whose unearthed email exposed the extent to which the New Jersey governor's office had been involved in last year's inexplicable George Washington Bridge lane closures snarled traffic for a week.

It was a tough day for Chris Christie, and a dramatic one. As the story continues to unfold, let's pause to make sense of the four key takeaways so far:

1. Christie's claim that he was "blindsided" by his staff's emails was treated with skepticism in the press briefing room. If Democrats and even Republicans (privately) thought that his staffers were involved in the lane closures, then why didn't Christie? Christie says he has created a trusting, family like atmosphere in his office, and had no reason to believe — until this week — that he had been deceived by an aide.

2. One of the central figures in the scandal, Bill Stepien, is the ultimate Christie insider. He was campaign manager for Christie in 2009 and 2013, he worked the halls of the Republican Governors Association in November when Christie was elected chairman, and he was tapped by Christie both for a role with the RGA and to head the state Republican party. (Christie has now instructed him to step back from both positions.)

3. Christie says he's doing soul-searching — but he is not going to change. The subdued Christie at his "I'm sorry" press conference on Thursday is not necessarily indicative of how he will be in the future. When Christie's back is against the wall, as it was this week, he does long press conferences, takes all reporters' questions without getting testy...and then goes right back to his signature aggressive style the next day.

4. This scandal may prompt others to open up about Christie's alleged vengeful side. In the wake of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's allegations of political retribution, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has come forward to allege that after he declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid, the governor's office canceled several meetings with him. Are other Christie detractors now emboldened to tell their tales of gubernatorial revenge?


Comments [19]

This same type of Bridgegatesque corruption, cover-up & retaliation is standard operating procedure at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC by Port Authority Supervisors.

Gov. Christie promised to disclose any evidence “that come forward that requires action to be taken.” He added, “I will take it, no matter how much it hurts me personally or dismays me, because this is the job I asked for, and I’ve got to do it.”

I wonder if that applies to the well documented rampant theft of Lost & Found property at the Port Authority Bus Terminal by Port Authority Supervisors, and the illegal written policy of throwing lost valid passorts in the garbage instead of mailing them to their respective embassies if their owners could not be located and reunited with their lost passports. Now just imagine the damage that a terrorist cell or an identity theft ring could do with those passports. Google “Donna Lebourne abc news" & see the vile face of shame being confronted and exposed for the world to see.

If the Gov. is a man of his word, he can start by axing all the supervisors at the Port Authority Bus Terminal involved in this criminal activity, the supervisors that turned a blind eye to it, and all the supervisors who participated in the coverup and retaliation as well. Every single one of them must be fired & prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Finally, a traffic study on 9/11...really, what’s next, the Port Authority giving all TSA airport screeners the day off on 9/11/14 to see if that speeds up the screening process?

Jan. 12 2014 08:14 PM
Rick from Manhattan

As far as I can see, the whole thing was a malicious act - designed to cause damage to entirely innocent victims of the scheme. And it was apparently run from the top of the Christie administration if not Christie himself. He can stand on his head but that will not get him off the hook. He should resign.

Jan. 10 2014 03:41 PM
Marc K

Accusations of political retribution have long surrounded Governor Christie.
• Former Gov. Richard Codey (D) accused the Christie administration of “sending a message” by denying him state trooper protection after he publicly disagreed with Christie.
• A Codey cousin was fired from his position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (where Christie installed the people responsible for the lane closings).
• A former Codey aide was removed from the New Jersey Office of Consumer Affairs.
• After State Sen. Sean Kean (R) told a reporter that Christie erred in not calling for a state of emergency sooner, during a 2010 blizzard, Christie’s staff banned Kean from attending the next news conference Christie held in Kean’s home district. A Christie aide told the Star-Ledger that Kean “got what he deserved.”
• Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal saw his state funding slashed after backing a re-districting map more favorable to Democrats
• Confirmation of a judicial candidate recommended by State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R) suddenly stalled after the legislator voted against Christie’s public medical education system reorganization.

The question is not, as the Governor put it, why his people lied to him. The question is why they thought they could do something like this for political payback.

The answer seems to be that this was just “business as usual” for the Christie administration. I’m sure they’re all surprised to find out that this not acceptable to the Governor.

Jan. 10 2014 03:37 PM

New Jersey will always have political BS relating to its Governors due to the state's constitutional structure. Christie gets away with his bullying tactics because he hasn't broken any law. He will not be impeached, resign nor be implicated in any criminal investigation (if one even materializes). This is all "inside baseball" and most NJ citizens have no clue of the various vindictive things this governor has done because media coverage is little to zero w/in the state. How about an ethics investigation???? (Probably oxymoronic for NJ).

Painting Bridget Ann Kelly, Wildstein and Stepien as rogue agents is laughable at best and obscene at worst. Christie was personally involved in their hiring. Ms. Kelly probably has spent more time with the Governor than Mrs. Christie has in the last 4 years of his life. I sincerely hope that some investigative reporter w/an ounce of decency will continue to follow the details of the bridge closing and the emails involved. When Kelly sends out a note "Time for some traffic trouble in Ft. Lee." and Wildstein's reply is "Got it." this discourse implies some form of premeditation.

As a NJ taxpayer, I'm conflicted w/Christie. I like how he was able to get a deal done w/Randi Weingarten and the teachers union, his handling of Sandy and his indifference to the morons in the national Republican party. However, our taxes still remain the highest in the country, unemployment is at its worst in NJ and his calling of the special election (for US Senate) was an incredible waste of millions!!!!!

I sincerely hope he will honor his statement that his priority is w/the state of NJ and not the presidential election. Now he has to put his money where his mouth is and let's see some legislative action that actually improves the lives of NJ citizens and no more acts of political retribution.

Jan. 10 2014 12:46 PM
Ken from Brooklyn

This type of shorthand, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" (Bridget Anne Kelly) "Got it" (David Wildstein) with the clarity of action that followed, seems to indicate that there was a deeper understanding from other offline conversations between the NJ Governor's two staff members.

It begs the question, under Chris Christie's appointment and leadership, what other nefarious plans has his "most trusted", "inner circle" staff implemented in the past or have prepared to launch in the future?

Jan. 10 2014 11:50 AM

When two of Christie's top advisors resigned from their Christie appointed positions, Christie didn't find that a bit odd? He had to wait for the Bergen Record article to come out before he started investigating on his own? Hopefully, Kelly and Baroni will be granted immunity and maybe some of the truth will be revealed.The entire debacle including his press conference, should be the beginning of the end of his presidential aspirations.

Jan. 10 2014 10:47 AM
Kazz from Brooklyn

Last night on Maddow, the Ft Lee Mayor may have accidently shown another possible motive on the part of Christie/Port...he mentioned how proud he and the town were about the big real estate development they'd won and are building now. How was that deal arrived at? Any state toes trodden upon that would cause resentment towards Ft. Lee? A real estate development hard by the GWB actually might mind the reputation that the traffic's impossible on the bridge...? Just sayin'...

Jan. 10 2014 10:38 AM
DPenn from Long Island

This further proves that those in power have little or no regard for the people they purport to represent. Was there no thought at all at how this vengeful and stupid move would impact the rest of us? To me it goes to blatant arrogance and stupidity and sends a very strong message that "we really don't give a sh-- about you." They can't even be self-serving in a smart way...

Jan. 10 2014 10:31 AM
Jon S from Suburban Bucolia

Stepien, CC confidant and axe-man was fired from a very high-level position for calling Mayor of Ft. Lee an idiot?
Not buying it.

Christie set the Admin tone that payback is a b**** and his operatives internalized this and went over-the-cliff on this one.
Did he authorize it? Probably not.
Did he turn a blind eye? At least.
Did he heat the hothouse where this plant grew and flowered? Absolutely.

Jan. 10 2014 10:31 AM
George Campbell

Rachel Maddow has no credibility? From the Bergen Record, this is ridiculous... Maybe better to check with Star Ledger?

Jan. 10 2014 10:30 AM

The theory put forward by Rachel Maddow - that on August 12, Christie was so hopping mad at Senate Democrats for making him pull a Supreme Court nomination that he ordered (or overzealous henchmen perceived that he wanted) some retribution against Democrats and this took the form of a bridge closure in Loretta Weinberg's district that was 'ordered' on August 13 is plausible but absent more connective tissue is far from proven. What is proven is that subordinates to the governor were using the power entrusted to his office to hurt some of the state's citizens without any bigger purpose.

Somebody ought to go to jail.

[Whether Christie himself survives the mess that his leadership style has caused depends on how soon he's got to go before the public and apologize again. I give him 18 months.]

Jan. 10 2014 09:59 AM

1. Why does no one focus on the lengths Gov. Christie must have gone to in order not to find out what happened after the first bridge-related questions arose? He needed the Bergen Record to throw the story in his face (still flushed after his workout). This is lawyer deniability prep 101.

2. Does the sentence "I take responsibility" mean anything if one then proceeds to blame everyone and go on to grieve about oneself for two hours?! In Japan the sentence used to precede seppuku. Ok, maybe this is a bit much, especially since the Governor has already committed a disembowelment a year ago.

Jan. 10 2014 09:58 AM

Robert: Thank you for that link. I have been looking for other motives which were not about the election. Vindictiveness related to the NJSC nominees is just as mean-spirited but more rational.

Jan. 10 2014 09:54 AM

The simple order of words in his language gives great insight and confirms what we all have suspected
"as a candidate... and a governor"
The press conference was the first step I trying to salvage his presidential aspirations. The governor and those around him were looking too far to in future and were not be mindful of what was going on in their home state.
The fact that this scandal involves the GWB and the PANYNJ makes it an interstate issue and should be under federal jurisdiction. The GWB is the busiest bridge in the world, this stunt effected millions of people. The governor ultimately bears the responsibility.
He better break out that Sandy fleece that wore two weeks straight if he wants any chance of getting out of this one. On the other hand the presidential election is a long ways away, and as a country we tend to forget and forgive. If proceedings by the federal government are not brought against him over this issue... He still has a good probability of becoming president.

Jan. 10 2014 09:52 AM
Donald Diamond from BEDFORD

Christie says that he saw the emails that caused him to conclude he had be "desceived" by two high ranking members of his staff after he finished his physical exercises. His scenario does not have the ring of truth. At no time in his two hour "confession session with reporters" does he state what he did with the rest of his work day. After he discovered deceit, it would be natural for him to investigate who was involved in bridgegate and who helped conceal the emails from him. In other words, anyone in his position would work to find out how he was defrauded for such a long time after the traffic jam up occurred and he made a joke about moving traffic cones causing the the hardship to Fort Lee. His silence is an admission of personal guilt.

Jan. 10 2014 09:15 AM

An objective review of the Governor's self-admitted "cone man" response to initial media inquiries on this issue -- yes, I know he thinks he was being facetious, but therein lies the truth of this saga -- will raise questions as to why he did not get to the bottom of the silly reasons given for the debacle his henchmen were causing. He can't have it both ways. If he's the efficient, effective leader he wants us to believe he is, then he on his own, should have already uncovered the puerile, unprofessional, unethical, spiteful,and probably illegal activities his staff,on whom he reportedly keeps on a very tight lease, were engaged in. For those who think he would made a good President, watch the 1983 movie, The Dead Zone.

Jan. 10 2014 09:01 AM
Mary Carroll from Hawthorne

The problem with Christie is that once he was elected he was supposed to be Governor of the entire State, all of the towns, all of the cities, all of the people. However, like most elected officials these days, after the election he continues to be a partisan politician, taking care of his friends and seeking revenge against his enemies, instead of being a true public servant.

Jan. 10 2014 08:42 AM

i'm not an msnbc fan but that theory is definitely worth finding more about and chris christie should be grilled about it.

Jan. 10 2014 08:41 AM
Robert S from Brooklyn

Rachel Maddow explains suggests a new, credible motive:

Jan. 10 2014 08:13 AM

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