Monday, February 3, 2014
LATEST IN CHRISTIE'S BRIDGE SCANDAL EXPLAINED
This article is being updated as news breaks. Click here for the latest.
Internal emails released Wednesday strongly suggest that a top aide to New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie orchestrated massive traffic problems in Fort Lee, New Jersey, last fall as an act of political retribution against the city's Democratic mayor. For months, Christie and his administration have denied allegations that road closures in Fort Lee were politically motivated. The emails, released as part of an investigation by Democratic state legislators, could spiral into a major political scandal for Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. Here's what you need to know.
How'd this begin? In mid-September, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey unexpectedly closed two access lanes on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River and serves as a major commuter route between the two states. A massive, weeklong traffic jam ensued, clogging the streets of nearby Fort Lee.
Cops and lawmakers in Fort Lee said they were given no warning about the decision to close the lanes, which delayed school buses, first responders, and commuters bound for New York City. The Port Authority justified its decision by saying it was conducting a "traffic study."
Why is this political? Soon after the traffic jam, rumors emerged that the Port Authority closed the bridge lanes as political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who endorsed Gov. Chris Christie's opponent in the 2013 gubernatorial campaign. As news outlets and New Jersey Democrats dug deeper into the circumstances of the bridge incident, they eventually connected the lane closures to two Port Authority officials with close ties to Christie: Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the agency, and David Wildstein, its director of interstate capital projects. Baroni and Wildstein have since resigned, and both men have retained criminal defense attorneys.
All along, the Christie administration had denied any connection to the decision to close the bridge lanes. In September, a Christie spokesman called the retribution claim "crazy." Christie told reporters at a December press conference that the Fort Lee traffic snarl was "absolutely, unequivocally not" a result of political score-settling.