It could have been a nice and carefree weekend for Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie: He could have basked in the glitz and glamor of Sunday’s Super Bowl, the big finale of the American football season, to be held for the first time ever in his home state.
But instead of fully enjoying the excitement in East Rutherford’s MetLife Stadium, Christie over the weekend was facing the most serious allegations to date in the “Bridgegate” scandal that have the potential of not only burying his 2016 presidential ambitions, but putting an abrupt end to his political career.
A former official who is at the center of the traffic scandal said Friday that Christie basically lied when he told a national television audience in a two-hour press conference on January 9 that he had learnt of the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge “after it was over”.
A lawyer of David Wildstein, until his resignation in December a top Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that operates the bridge, released a letter to the bi-state agency that immediately ignited a media firestorm.
In the letter, Wildstein through his lawyer claims that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures” onto that bridge “during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly”.
The letter continues by stating that Wildstein also “contests the accuracy of various statements” Christie made about Wildstein and that he “can prove the inaccuracy of some”.
Wildstein’s lawyer did not produce evidence to support these claims like transcripts of emails and phone messages or other documents, which left analysts on weekend cable news programs speculating about the nature of these accusations and the political fallout for Christie.
This aggressive move of Wildstein against the governor is the most serious allegation in the scandal to date that Christie himself had knowledge about the lane closures when they happened in September 2013.
Documents released in early January showed that the four-day lane closures at the George Washington Bridge were ordered and executed by close Christie allies in an apparent plot to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for his unwillingness to endorse Christie for re-election in November.
As a result of the drastically limited access to the busy bridge that connects Fort Lee with Manhattan, a monster back-up jam turned Fort Lee into a giant parking lot and created huge difficulties for emergency vehicles, school buses and local traffic in general.
Christie has repeatedly said that he did not know about the lane closings until they were first reported by The Record, a North Jersey newspaper, on September 13, the day a senior Port Authority official ordered the lanes reopened.
On Friday night, the governor’s office issued a statement repeating this line of defense by Christie, adding that “the Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”
The “Bridgegate” scandal as well as corruption allegations involving the distribution of federal relief funds after hurricane Sandy are subject of investigations of the US Attorney for New Jersey and that state’s legislature.
If Wildstein’s allegations prove true, it could be a severe political blow for Christie, who is seen as a serious Republican presidential candidate in 2016. Latest polls suggest, though, that
Christie lost his frontrunner status in the wake of the scandal and fell behind other Republican presidential hopefuls.
The Newark Star-Ledger, one of the biggest New Jersey newspapers, demanded in an editorial that the governor “must resign or be impeached”, if the latest charges turn out to be true. And conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News that Christie lives “one email away from utter ruin.”
Over the weekend, America was largely distracted by Sunday’s Super Bowl, giving Christie some limited breathing space. But as of Monday, Christie might want to beef up his defense.