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Posted: Friday, 10 January 2014 5:20PM

Chris Christie Bridge Scandal: The Next Shoes to Drop



Stephen Chernin/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- More than 100 minutes of anger, denial, declarations of disappointment and apologies were insufficient for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to put to rest lingering questions about what exactly inspired his aides to gin up an ill-conceived traffic ploy.

To hear Christie tell it in his news conference Thursday, he was blindsided, "misled" and lied to by his aides. And with that acknowledgement, topped off by an apology, the case should be closed.

On the horizon, however, are a slew of potential issues that could keep Christie on the defensive for some time to come.

1. Blanket denial.

"I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover," Christie said.

If that turns out to be untrue, for any reason, Chris Christie's political career could be irreparably damaged, all because his staff staged the closing of bridge lanes for political reasons that are still unclear.

2. 5,000 documents.

New Jersey Democrats smell blood in the water and they're going to keep pushing for what answers they can get from Christie's people about what caused his aides to apparently target the mayor of the town of fewer than 40,000 people in a political vendetta. And, most importantly, they'll be probing to find out who else was involved.

A cache of about two dozen pages of emails and text messages blew the case wide open this week, but Jersey Democrats are about to release nearly 5,000 more.

What's in those documents, almost no one knows for sure. In this case, what Christie doesn't know can hurt him.

3. Unknown unknowns.

Christie didn't know a lot of things that were going on with his staff, and he indicated Thursday that he still didn't want to know.

The two aides Christie fired Thursday -- deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and a top political aide, Bill Stepien -- didn't get an exit interview. Christie said he didn't want to know yet what they knew about what caused them to launch into a political vendetta.

"She was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had," Christie said of Kelly. "And I'm, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment."

But what Kelly and Stepien know is essential to how long this scandal will continue to trail Christie.

Christie appears to be gambling that it's better for him to have plausible deniability about other damaging information that might emerge. But not knowing what is out there will make it more difficult for his political operation to respond swiftly and effectively.

Not to mention that not knowing what his aides were up to got him into this mess in the first place.

4. Is Christie protecting anyone?

Orchestrating the closing of lanes on a major multistate bridge for a nonexistent traffic study is no small undertaking, and only two people have faced consequences so far.

There's also the curious case of Christie's appointee to the chairmanship of the board of the Port Authority, David Samson, whom Christie appeared to go out of his way to protect Thursday.

"He was one of my interviews. I am convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level and never brought to the attention of the Board of Commissioners until ... [Port Authority] Executive Director [Patrick] Foye wrote his email to the Board of Commissioners," Christie said.

The trouble is this excerpt from a series of emails between Christie's aides about the lane closings.

When New York official reopened the Fort Lee, N.J., lanes, David Wildstein, a former Christie Port Authority official, wrote this to Christie's axed deputy chief of staff Kelly.

"The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts. [Port Authority Chairman] Samson helping us to retaliate," Wildstein wrote.

Christie says he believes Samson, but that won't stop questions about whether there is more to his story.

5. Taking it to court.

Federal officials in New Jersey are looking into whether any laws were broken by Christie's staff in this whole debacle.

And now there is at least one civil case popping up.

Six New Jersey clients represented by attorney Rosemarie Arnold have filed a federal lawsuit against Christie, the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Bridget Anne Kelly, Bill Baroni, David Wildstein and others.

It's the first civil claim over the lane-closure scandal, but in an interview with Arnold she said she has been inundated with other phone calls from people in New Jersey and believes the number of plaintiffs will grow, possible to the "tens of thousands."

She wants it certified as a class-action lawsuit.

Arnold said most of the six people live in the surrounding area and all work in New York City.

"They have all been damaged by the 'Bridgegate' situation. One had a panic attack," Arnold said. "Not inconvenienced, but damaged."

The woman who had the panic attack owns a business in Manhattan and, like the others, was trying to get to work. Arnold said none of the clients are school children caught in the traffic, but she has already heard from several Friday.

6. When did he find out?

Christie says he awoke Wednesday morning, went to the gym and then got a call from an aide about a report in a New Jersey newspaper with the bombshell allegations about his aides.

He was "blindsided" and "shocked," saying it was all new to him.

Then came this revelation: "I haven't had a lot of sleep the last two nights, and I've been doing a lot of soul-searching."

Two nights?

If Christie found out about the emails a day before he spoke to the media, what kept him up the first night?

These might be idle questions, but in a bizarre case that has turned on idle questions' becoming political realities, every detail becomes important.

7. Were others involved?

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email that set into motion this political drama.

Is it possible that a deputy chief of staff could have enough authority alone to compel Port Authority officials to act on a political vendetta with a thin justification?

But the email leaves plenty questions about what kinds of conversations came before it and who else was involved.

Newly released documents might reveal more, and more heads might need to roll if others were involved.

Christie is already short several high-level, once-trusted officials. The loss of Stepien, a political guru who would have been Christie's man at the Republican Governors Association, which Christie now runs, is a big hit.

More resignations and Christie will have work to do to rebuild his inner circle.

It could also leave him with an even smaller group of confidants to help him through the next four years and, potentially, a presidential run.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


 
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