For years, New Jersey governor and Donald Trump transition chief Chris Christie has asserted that he had no idea some of his top aides were conspiring to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in the Bridgegate scandal.
But in court on Monday, federal prosecutors asserted not only that Christie knew about the plan but that he knew exactly why it had been carried out — to punish Fort Lee’s mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign.
Prosecutors said that both Bill Baroni, who is currently facing trial, and David Wildstein, who has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, “bragged to the governor about the lane closings,” and said “that they had been done to ‘mess’ with the mayor of Fort Lee because he had declined entreaties to endorse the governor’s re-election,” according to the New York Times’s Kate Zernike.
It is not yet clear what evidence prosecutors have for this assertion, and keep in mind that Christie hasn’t been charged with anything and it seems very unlikely that he will be at this late date. Furthermore the prosecutors’ timeline of events suggests that Christie did not order the lane closures but instead was simply told about them by Baroni and Wildstein while they were happening.
Still, this is a big revelation with national implications. And one person who probably isn’t all that surprised is Donald Trump. Back when Trump and Christie were rivals during the campaign, Trump himself claimed that Christie “totally knew about” Bridgegate.
Oddly, though, this suspicion seems to have been no obstacle for Trump in his determination that Christie is the best-qualified person to help him staff the federal government. It’s a strange decision that raises some troubling questions about how a President Donald Trump would govern.
Donald Trump has selected Chris Christie to help him fill thousands of federal government jobs
Transition chief is a job that really matters. Since there’s so little time between the election and Inauguration Day, the groundwork Christie is doing now for Trump will likely prove very important in influencing what decisions Trump would make if he wins.
And a major part of the transition job is staffing — the new president will eventually have to fill thousands of political appointee jobs across the federal government, and many of those most important jobs will have to be filled during the transition.
So even if Christie had truly been unaware of his aides’ Bridgegate plan, the very fact that this scandal involved wrongdoing by top Christie appointees would have cast serious doubt on Christie’s suitability for staffing the federal government, if he hired people who were so willing to go rogue.
But if prosecutors are right, the behavior of Christie’s aides wasn’t a bug but rather a feature — because Christie apparently knew they tried to exert petty revenge on a town, and endangered its residents, simply because the town’s mayor wouldn’t play ball with Christie politically.
The scandal really is astonishingly petty — at the time, Christie’s reelection already looked reassured, and he didn’t even need this endorsement. So it’s deeply revealing about Chris Christie’s approach to politics and governing and the type of people he — and apparently Donald Trump — would like to put in positions of power.