by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) may have exhausted reporters’ inquiries into his administration’s involvement in the closing of lanes on the country’s most heavily-traveled bridge, but there are still many unanswered questions in the unfolding political saga.
Christie aides are accused of ordering the closure of two lanes on the George Washington Bridge for four days last September after the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. declined to endorse his bid for re-election.
The governor denied this week that he had personal knowledge of emails exchanged between his aides and state transportation officials, and he fired key two close advisers involved in the controversy.
Christie has never been accused of shrinking from media attention, and he held court with reporters for nearly two hours this week.
But there are still unknowns that remain. Here are five questions that still have yet to be answered about the burgeoning bridge scandal:
1. Was anyone else in Christie’s administration involved in the initial decision to close the lanes on the George Washington Bridge?
Christie’s initial response to the suggestion that the lanes were closed as political revenge was to forcefully declare the idea ludicrous. At several news conferences in December, Christie said the lanes were closed because of a traffic study. On Thursday, Christie said he “didn’t know if this was a traffic study that became a political vendetta or a political vendetta that became a traffic study.” The two Christie officials who are mostly closely tied to the bridge scandal, former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former Christie Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, are both out of the positions they were in when the lane closure decision was made. But if ties to other aides involved in the closings emerge, this goes deeper and deeper.
2. Why would aides to Christie risk the scandal as the governor was cruising to re-election anyway?
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was unknown before the scandal exploded Wednesday, and he quickly became a fixture on cable news. But the low-key local Democrat’s blessing was far from needed to help Christie win re-election — which he did by 22 points anyway. So why would Christie aides hold such a vendetta against the mayor? Many now wonder whether it’s simply a sign of the state’s hardball politics and how Christie ran his office, pushing for payback. Still, the paranoia and vendettas from his aides seem almost Nixonian and far from rational.
3. Did Christie have any conversations with departed Port Authority member David Wildstein in recent months?
It was widely reported that Christie and Wildstein were high school friends, but the governor took great pains to distance himself from the transportation official this week. “Let me just clear something up, OK, about my childhood friend David Wildstein,” Christie said. “It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He’s a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. I mean I had a high school in Livingston, a three year high school that had 1,800 students in a three-year high school in the late ’70s, early 1980. I knew who David Wildstein was. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer and so was I. Really after that time I completely lost touch with David. We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.”
During the process of putting distance between himself in Wildstein, who was subpoenaed by Democrats in the New Jersey state legislature and repeatedly pled the fifth, Christie was laying down a bright red line about his relationship with Wildstein. If anything is revealed to contradict that account of events, Christie could find himself a jam that will be much bigger than any traffic back-up.
4. Are there any more explosive emails?
In a Friday news dump, thousands of documents subpoenaed by New Jersey Democrats in the legislature were released. What emerged appeared to back up the initial documents, showing the fired aides working to keep the roads closed and even safety warnings and frantic complaints from residents were ignored. This wasn’t the smoking gun, but in this far-reaching scandal, there could still be more out there.
5. Will any prominent Republicans come to Christie’s defense?
Democrats have been trying to use the bridge scandal to bloody Christie up ahead of a potential 2016 presidential, but the silence this week among high-profile Republicans was deafening.
Christie was not shy about criticizing fellow Republicans when he rose to prominence. He took House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to task last year over funding for Hurricane Sandy relief and he engaged in a prolonged back-and-forth with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) over their records on government spending. Boehner offered mild words of support for Christie, saying he believed the governor’s version of events.
But Paul took a clear swipe at Christie, saying that he “always hated being stuck in traffic” and wondered “who did this to me?” when he was. Other prominent Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said the bridge incident reinforced the image that Christie is a bully. These are not exactly the type of quotes that are helpful when they are coming from your side of the aisle three years before the next presidential election, especially when they play into persistent stereotypes, too.