Taking the Fifth in a New Jersey legislative hearing Jan. 9, Gov. Chris Christie’s 51-year-old old high school buddy and $150,000 Port Authority appointee David Wildstein earned himself a contempt citation. Taking the Fifth is both good and bad news for Christie: On the one hand, Wildstein protects Christie from more damaging testimony and, on the other hand, opens up a can of worms for continued investigation. Now New Jersey legislators and certainly the press are asking the question: What is Mr. Wildstein hiding? Refusing to testify raises serious questions about the veracity of Christie denials at a hastily called Jan. 9 press conference. Fired by Christie Dec. 13, 2013 in the growing Bridegate scandal where Wildstein, on someone’s instructions, ordered the George Washington Bridge from New York to Fort Lee, New Jersey to be coned off to only one lane, causing massive delays.
Damning emails published Jan. 8 by the New York Times from Christie’s 41-year-old Deputy Chief-of-Staff Bridget Ann Kelly instructing Wildstein to cause traffic delays in Fort Lee raise the most incredulous issue at the heart of Christie’s news conference: That an underling, like Kelly, would order the illegal activity on her own to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s 2013 reelection bid. Kelley emailed Wildstein in August 2013. “Time for some traffic delays in Fort Lee,” wrote Kelley, to which Wildstein replied, “Got it.” On Sept. 9 through Sept. 13, traffic snarled on the GW Bridge, with comuters traveling to Fort Lee on one lane. Christie fired Kelley before his Jan. 9 press conference, accusing her of lying to him about the vindictive move to snarl GW Bridge traffic. Christie’s GOP friends buy his story that Kelley went rogue.
Since 70-year-old former 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney picked Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) instead of Christie as his running mate, Christie vaulted to the front of potential 2016 contenders. When the Romney’s campaign crashed-and-burned Nov. 6, 2012, Christie’s stock went up as the GOP candidate mostly likely to compete agaisnt Democratic frontrunner former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Christie’s Bridgegate scandal could end his presidential ambitions, at least for 2016, maybe ever. “The [Christie] administration doing this doesn’t surprise me. Bridget Kelly—that does surprise me,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “I don’t believe she would do this on her own,” said Tittel. “I just don’t see her having this kind of side to her,” confirming the obvious that no underling would independently order the GW Bridge traffic jam.
Denying that he had any “planning” involvement, Christie doesn’t rule out that he gave Kelly the orders to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich. While Christie and his GOP friends want to throw Kelly under the bus, common sense tells you that the 41-year-old suburban soccer-mom-of-four would never give such an order unless approved by Christie. Kelly came up the ranks through New Jersey politics, joining Christie in 2010 and only recently getting promoted in April to $114,000 Deputy Chief-of-Staff. Believing she would go rogue, stab Christie in the back and destroy her career makes no sense. “She’s had a very low profile,” said Patrick Murray, founding director of Monmouth University Polling Institute. “She’s really worked her way up very quietly,” attesting to her careful professional demeanor. Christie’s explanation of Kelly lacks plausible deniability.
Neither Wildstein nor Kelly has been heard from since the scandal erupted Jan. 8. Christie told reporters yesterday he hasn’t talked with Kelly because he doesn’t want to taint an ongoing investigation. When the FBI and New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman start asking Kelly questions, she’ll give a different story from the GOP-driven alibis for the 52-year-old New Jersey governor. Asking folks to believe Kelly acted alone without her boss’s orders is preposterous. Christie said he was “blindsided” yesterday in his press event finding out that the GW Bridge traffic jam was something other than a routine “traffic study.” Christie knew enough Dec. 13 to fire Wildstein and his $289,000 Port Authority appointee Bill Baroni. He also took steps Jan. 8 to stop his two-time campaign manager—also connected with Bridgegate—Bill Stepien from heading the New Jersey Republican Party
Christie’s firewalls between himself and the GW Bridge scandal are growing thin. Watching Wildstein take the Fifth and hearing nothing from Kelly can’t last too much longer. While the GOP would like to vaporize the PR nightmare at the earliest time, Christie’s stories just don’t add up. His trusty, loyal Deputy Chief-of-Staff just stabbed him in the back. Silencing Wildstein, Kelly, Baroni and now Stepien smacks of mafia-style New Jersey politics, feeding stereotypes about Christie’s leadership style. If Christie really wanted the public to hear the real story, he’d let his former employees speak freely to the press about what really happened. Judging by the evasive tactics taken so far, Christie’s Bridgegate scandal is likely to turn out badly. While Christie will find plenty of apologists in the GOP-backed press, the mainstream press won’t stop until the real facts come out.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.