One day after bombshell reports implicated close allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) in the closure of traffic lanes as political payback against a Democratic mayor, the governor on Thursday apologized and denied he had any knowledge about the scheme until Wednesday.
However, despite holding a nearly two-hour-long press conference on the matter in which he fielded dozens and dozens of inquiries from reporters, a few pressing questions remain about the story.
Did Christie really know nothing about it?
This is the big question still hanging over the whole story. Christie categorically denied Thursday that he knew anything about what his cohorts were up to until the news broke the previous day. But many are understandably skeptical considering that Christie's top lieutenants were directly tied to the scandal.
And there are a few odd pieces that suggest Christie may not be telling the whole truth.
For one, multiple Port Authority officials resigned last year at a time when Christie was still laughing off the story as a media-generated nothing-burger. David Wildstein, the Port Authority official at the center of the story, resigned unexpectedly once reporters began questioning him. Christie maintained Thursday he didn't know Wildstein's motive for stepping down, and suggested he wasn't even very close to him anyway.
Yet as Mother Jones pointed out, a recent profile of Wildstein reported that other Port Authority officials considered him Christie's "eyes and ears" in the agency. And when pressed by state lawmakers on Thursday to answer questions about the scandal, Wildstein pled the Fifth.
State lawmakers and the U.S. Attorney's office are probing the matter, so it's possible new details will emerge about the affair. Christie better hope they don't turn something up on him.
Was there really ever a traffic study?
There probably wasn't. Several Port Authority officials testified last year that they had never heard of such a thing. But Christie has maintained all along that he understood there was some sort of traffic study, saying at his press conference that "there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday."
When pressed, he added that there could have been a "political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study," or, conversely, "a traffic study that now has political overtones to it as well."
Would Christie have fired Bridget Anne Kelly had she been honest?
Christie's now-former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, was at the center of the scandal. She's the one who emailed Wildstein the ominous message "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" — the town that was the target of the vendetta.
So it wasn't too surprising that Christie announced he had fired Kelly. However, he didn't say she had been let go for orchestrating a vindictive, boneheaded scheme that endangered her boss's political career. Rather, he said he had "terminated her employment because she lied to me."
Christie repeatedly touched on the theme, saying he was "heartbroken" someone had "betrayed my trust."
It may have been a simple matter of phrasing, and Christie would have booted her even had she come clean at the outset. But given how Christie himself is no stranger to combative political theater, it's worth wondering whether Kelly's crime was punishing a foe or lying to her boss. Perhaps the former isn't a fireable offense in the Christie camp.
Christie's staffers listen to his press conference. | (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Who else could get fired?
In addition to Kelly's firing, Christie announced his former campaign chief, Bill Stepien, would end his work with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie now heads, and discontinue his bid to lead the state's Republican Party. More heads could roll as the fallout continues.
The correspondence implicating those two principal figures also named other Christie officials, though to lesser degrees. For one, Wildstein wrote in one message that David Samson, Christie's Port Authority chairman, was "helping us to retaliate" against New York officials who ended the traffic shenanigans.
Samson issued a statement Wednesday denying any involvement. And Christie on Thursday said he had interviewed Samson, reviewed his story, and was "confident that he had no knowledge of this."
As with the lingering questions about Christie's own involvement, the duel investigations could turn up more details that result in other yet-unknown players getting the boot.
Why did anyone think this was a good idea in the first place?
Christie won re-election in November with more than 60 percent of the vote, and there was never any doubt he would coast back into office. So why did Christie's allies think they needed to send a message to one mayor who refused to endorse the governor's re-election bid?
"If you are sitting in the governor's office at a high level, and your candidate is well ahead in the polls, the idea that you are going to play with some lanes just makes no sense," former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean (R) told CNN.
Christie said the scheme exposed "abject stupidity" on the part of those involved, adding, "I never saw this as political retribution because I didn't think he did anything to us."
Some have speculated that the whole ordeal is indicative of a culture of bullying that Christie fostered in his office. Indeed, others have suggested that this may merely be the only known instance of such retributive actions. A detailed New York Times story from December implied Christie may actually have a habit of punishing perceived enemies.
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