The abuse-of-power scandal known as Bridgegate started with orange traffic cones. For four consecutive mornings in September 2013, cones were rearranged on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, reducing to one from three the lanes reserved for vehicles from the closest town, Fort Lee. The bridge is the world’s busiest, connecting New Jersey with New York City’s Manhattan Island. The resulting gridlock still dogs New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a top adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Prosecutors say the shift was ordered, and the resulting mess privately celebrated, by Christie allies who were seeking retribution against Fort Lee’s mayor for not backing Christie’s re-election.
1. What was Christie’s role?
That remains the big question. On Day One of the trial of the two former Christie allies, a federal prosecutor declared for the first time that Christie was told about the bridge bottleneck while it was going on. Christie says he had no inkling until afterward, and an inquiry commissioned by his administration said he “knew nothing about it.”
2. If he knew, why wasn’t he charged?
It’s hard to say. Prosecutors typically want corroboration before they bring charges.
3. Who’s on trial?
Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee at the agency that owns and operates the bridge, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They face charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and civil-rights violations in a trial that began on Sept. 19 in federal court in New Jersey. A month before the lane change, Kelly wrote in an e-mail, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
4. Who (else) was involved?
David Wildstein, who worked at the Port Authority and received the e-mail from Kelly, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He won’t be sentenced until after he testifies as a prosecution witness in the trial of Kelly and Baroni. David Samson, a Christie appointee who was chairman of the Port Authority at the time, pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge in a separate case that stemmed from the bridge investigation. Prosecutors have also given defense lawyers a list of unindicted co-conspirators, but a federal appeals court denied a media request to make the names public.
5. What’s the fallout?
Bridgegate loomed over Christie’s unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, which ended in February. His popularity in New Jersey has plunged to historic lows, with polls showing that fewer than three in 10 residents approve of the job he’s doing. With his term ending in January 2018, Christie could find political rebirth in a Trump administration, even if it’s not as vice president.
The Reference Shelf
- A Bloomberg article on what else is wrong with the agency that runs the bridge.
- A Bloomberg article on Christie’s withdrawal from the presidential campaign.