While most of America has been busy digesting a nearly-daily intake of sexual assault allegations, paranoid screeds about a rigged election, and a wildly vituperative back and forth between party elders and their Republican leader, Governor Christie’s political career has been quietly, steadily unraveling.
There are some who will point to the governor’s early and eager embrace of Trump as the beginning of his political demise (others may point to his wife’s obvious disdain for the man for whom her husband was putting his reputation on the line), but the ongoing trial of Christie aides Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni for their roles in the Bridgegate scandal has revealed a culture of craven and unusually vindictive acts (even for New Jersey pols). The testimonies are devastating to Christie’s political ambitions.
Most damning, two of his top aides* (former Deputy Chief of Staff Kelly and former Port Authority official and one-time Christie henchman, David Wildstein) have now testified under oath that Christie knew of the lane closures—ones that would strand thousands of motorists on the George Washington Bridge—in advance. Prosecutors have maintained that the lanes were closed by Kelly and Baroni as retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, who refused to endorse Christie during the governor’s reelection campaign, and whose residents were most affected by the obscene traffic delays, (the defense teams have maintained their clients’ innocence against nine charges of corruption and fraud).
On Friday, Kelly testified that she reviewed the plan with Christie on August 12, 2013—nearly a month before the lanes were closed for an alleged “traffic study.” This directly contradicts what Christie has maintained all along, most famously in his 108 minute-long press conference on January 9 of 2014, immediately following the Bridgegate allegations—saying he had no knowledge of the lane closures:
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution,” said Christie, “and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
The fact that three of his consiglieres have testified exactly otherwise is very bad for Christie, but it’s perhaps the stuff the governor did afterwards that is unprecedented.
Three days into the traffic mayhem, Kelly says that she and the governor discussed the lane closures at a 9/11 memorial service. By then, Mayor Sokolich was frantically trying to get the lanes reopened, telephoning Christie aide Bill Baroni to communicate his furor. Christie and his team, apparently, found this funny:
“Mr. Wildstein testified that Mr. Baroni delighted in [Mayor Sokolich’s] frustration, so much so that his mocking of Mr. Sokolich’s “it’s maddening” became an inside joke. And Mr. Baroni, he said, bragged to the governor about the scheme at a September 11th memorial service, telling him that there were enormous traffic jams in Fort Lee and that Mr. Sokolich’s calls were not being returned.”
Baroni, by the way, never called Mayor Sokolich back. In his testimony, he couldn’t explain why:
“I have asked myself that question a thousand times,” Mr. Baroni said, sitting on the stand and shaking his head. “I think of it first thing in the morning, the last thing at night.”
There are, ahem, probably a few reasons that the Christie aide did not feel like placating his boss’s chosen adversary. For Baroni, this is certainly abominable behavior, but for the sitting governor of New Jersey to relish in the pain directed at citizens of New Jersey, while attending an event to commemorate the deaths of (among others) citizens of New Jersey on 9/11 is not just illustrative of a robust mean streak: it suggests moral hazard.