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Bridging the Credibility Gap: Chris Christie and the George Washington Bridge Scandal

Gov. Chris Christie, in a December 2, 2013 news conference, ridiculed the notion that anyone in his administration had anything to do with the GWB lane closures, which snarled traffic for four days, September 9-12, 2013, at the bridge and throughout most of Fort Lee.

"I moved the cones, actually, unbeknownst to everybody," Christie said, with his trademarkable brand of sarcasm. It was a traffic study, the governor asserted, referring to testimony of his appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, before the NJ Assembly's Transportation Committee, on November 25th.

In an attempt to transform outrage over Fort Lee's traffic problems into a discussion of preferential treatment, Christie expressed indignation at the idea that Fort Lee, or any town, would have three dedicated bridge lanes. He promised that PANYNJ Chairman David Samson, another of his appointees, would look into that policy.

There was no traffic study, despite Baroni's dog-and-pony show before the Transportation Committee. That became clear when an email from Bridget Kelly, Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff, to David Wildstein, another Christie appointee to the PANYNJ, surfaced last week.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to Wildstein, at 7:34 a.m. on August 13th.

"Got it," Wildstein replied, one minute later.

Clearly, there were discussions before this email exchange; Wildstein instantly knew what Kelly was referring to and what he was expected to do about it. On September 7th, two days before the lane closures, Wildstein advised Kelly that he would call her on Monday, September 9th, to "let you know how Fort Lee goes." Robert Durando, the bridge manager, would later testify that Wildstein ordered him to shut down bridge access lanes without notifying local authorities beforehand, the usual protocol.

After Baroni testified on November 25th, he sent a same-day text message to Wildstein asking for "Trenton feedback." When Wildstein responded, "Good," Baroni was downcast. "Just good?" he texted back. Wildstein quickly reassured him that Bridget Kelly was "VERY happy," Wildstein also said "Charlie" was pleased with Baroni's handling of the matter. We don't know for sure who Charlie is, but the governor's chief counsel, Charles McKenna, is referred to as Charlie by the governor.

For more on this scandal, and my take on how it affects Christie's 2016 chances for the Republicn presidential nomination, check out my Op-Ed piece in the Sunday Opinion section of The Record, January 12, 2014. Here is the link: http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/muti_011214.html.

For other Christie-related essays, my eBook titled "A Tale of Two Christies" is available at all online booksellers.
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