TOPICS > Politics

War of words reignites bridge scandal for Christie

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  February 3, 2014 at 10:05 AM EST
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The controversy over lane closures last September at the George Washington Bridge have turned into a game of he said, he said, involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Port Authority appointee David Wildstein. The war of words has reignited the scandal, threatening to stymie Christie’s efforts to recover from the episode and preserve his future political prospects.

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The latest allegations surfaced Friday when the New York Times reported on a letter from Wildstein’s lawyer that claimed “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening.

Christie’s office initially responded with a statement that said the letter “confirms what the Governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with.”

But his office followed up with a tougher missive on Saturday, sending an email to friends and allies blasting the Times’ reporting and going after Wildstein personally. Politico’s Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman detail the contents of the memo, including charges that Wildstein sued over a local school board election as a 16-year-old and had been accused by a high school social studies teacher of “deceptive behavior.”

The combative nature of the message reflects Christie’s style, but also signals the importance to the governor’s political career that the claims he made during last month’s two-hour news conference that he had no advance knowledge of the lane closures continue to hold up to scrutiny.

“I don’t know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over,” Christie said at the Jan. 9 event in Trenton. “And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. And there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else’s attention.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Chris Megerian and Joseph Tanfani report that Christie could face more questions down the road about his handling of the Port Authority:

Problems at the Port Authority run deeper than the ongoing scandal, critics say. They say that Christie, a potential Republican presidential contender who rose to prominence as a corruption-fighting U.S. attorney and pledged as governor to reel in arcane government commissions, has used the agency to reward his friends and allies.

The troubled organization is the largest of its kind in the country, with a $7-billion budget, more than 7,000 employees, a dysfunctional management structure and a reputation as a secretive patronage haven.

As the bridge scandal drags on, there have been growing calls for Christie to step down as chair of the Republican Governors Association to focus on the challenges in his state.

Two top Republicans came to Christie’s defense on Sunday, saying they believed Christie should continue to lead the organization.

“I don’t think he should step down, I think he should stay there,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On ABC’s “This Week,” Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan added: “I don’t think he should step down because nothing has been proven, and you always give a person the benefit of the doubt in those kinds of situations, in my judgment.”

And, one year after being snubbed, Christie also scored an invitation to this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, another sign that conservatives are rallying to his side as he battles allegations over the bridge controversy.

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LINE ITEMS

  • Janet Yellen will be sworn in Monday as the first woman chair of the Federal Reserve.
  • The House GOP left their annual retreat without a plan for extracting votes for raising the debt ceiling from conservative members. The debt ceiling hits Friday.
  • The State Department released a report Friday that raised no major environmental objections to construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
  • Roughly 22,000 Americans have filed appeals with the government because of enrollment errors from Healthcare.gov, but they’re being told the government can’t yet fix the overcharges, or in some cases, outright denials of coverage.
  • President Barack Obama and Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly butted heads in a live interview before the Super Bowl aired Sunday. In a 10-minute segment, O’Reilly questioned Obama on the most controversial moments of his presidency, including the attack on Americans in Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service scandal and the rollout of Healthcare.gov.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet reported Friday on the launch of a foundation tasked with selecting a site for Mr. Obama’s presidential library and museum. The process will be run by Martin Nesbitt, a close friend of the president; Julianna Smoot, who served as co-chair of the president’s 2012 re-election bid; and J. Kevin Poorman, a Chicago-area businessman.
  • In a memorandum Friday, the president instructed federal agencies not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, and the White House annouced commitments from 300 companies not to do so either.
  • Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell outraised his Democrat challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, in the fourth quarter of 2013. National Journal’s Hotline rounds up the Senate fundraising winners and losers.
  • David Wasson of the Spokesman-Review tracked down the “Bette in Spokane” mentioned by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in the GOP response to the State of the Union as an example of the problems with the Affordable Care Act. It turns out the $700-per-month increase cited by McMorris Rodgers was based on a pricier alternative, and that the woman, Bette Grenier, and her husband decided to go without coverage instead of enroll in one of the ACA plans.
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NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • NewsHour Economics Correspondent Paul Solman looked at outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s legacy. On Making Sen$e, Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker reviewed what he sees as Bernanke’s checkered tenure.
  • Mark Shields and David Brooks weighed in on allegations that Christie knew about lane closures while they were happening and the State Department’s Keystone Pipeline report.
  • And over the weekend, Hari Sreenivasan got the Jersey perspective on the bridge scandal’s latest from NJTV’s Michael Aron.
  • Hari spoke with The Hill’s Molly Hooper about bipartisan support for cutting public funding for political conventions.
  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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