Chris Christie Revenge Scandal Deepens a Day After Brash Governor Apologizes
The political revenge scandal surrounding New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie has deepened as newly damaging documentation surfaced, federal prosecutors opened an investigation and a stunning new theory of what was going on emerged—suggesting that Christie loyalists were targeting the state Senate’s Democratic leader.
The cascade of damning evidence began with a striking 20-minute segment by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday night. Maddow made a plausible case that Christie’s deputy chief of staff and an appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey did not plan to shut down access to the George Washington Bridge during the first week of school last September because the Democratic mayor of Ft. Lee would not endorse his re-election. That explanation has been suggested in most media accounts, although Christie said he barely knew the city’s Democratic mayor when he apologized on Thursday.
Instead, Maddow showed that the e-mail from now-fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, “Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee,” written on Aug. 13, 2013, came a day after Christie called New Jersey Senate Democratic leaders “animals” in a bitter press conference. On Aug. 12, the governor said that he would not nominate a sitting New Jersey Supreme Court justice to a lifetime appointment because he did not want to subject her to a bruising legislative confirmation. The state Senate Democratic leader’s district included Ft. Lee, Maddow noted, saying that this revenge theory was more probable that Christie’s frustration over not getting a local endorsement.
Then, on Friday, newly damning documentation emerged suggesting that the shutdown might have violated state and federal law. A New Jersey Assembly investigation into the incident released several e-mail, including one from Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye that in part read, “I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violated Federal Law and the laws of both states.” Foye said emergency vehicles were delayed, putting lives at risk. It hurt the economies of both states, came on a top Jewish holiday, subverted the public interest and hurt Port Authority’s reputation, he wrote. In response, another Christie appointee at the Authority, replied, “I am on my way to the office to discuss. There can be no public discourse.”
That e-mail is seen as suggesting a coverup was underway, where the Port Authority would say that it had been conducting a traffic study. Other documents said the closures only ended after protests by New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. That follows reporting by the Wall Street Journal that said Christie complained in a phone call with Cuomo last month that the Port Authority was “pressing too hard” in its investigation.
Before Christie’s apology and press conference on Thursday where he announced he was firing Kelly and severing ties with others involved in the scandal, the state Assembly and Port Authority had been investigating the incident. On Thursday, the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey announced that it would determine if the lane closures were criminal.
The bottom line is the Christie revenge scandal is deepening and not about to go away soon. Some of that is because Christie has a deep reputation of being a political bully in his state and his opponents are not going to easily let him off the hook. The New York Times has covered many incidents where Christie has strong-armed opponents, including this week’s report of a state environmental official who was told he might face legal consequences if he opposed a pipeline in one of the state’s most pristine areas.
Beyond New Jersey’s border, national political reporters are well aware that Christie has been the leading Republican candidate in 2016 presidential polling. Both he and Hillary Clinton are their party’s leading candidates, and Christie also is the 2014 chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. All of this means this scandal isn’t disappearing quietly into the night—if anything, it’s going to get louder and louder.