|How to Sound Smart About the Christie Scandal|
|By ABBY D. PHILLIP and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE (@shushwalshe)||Jan 14, 2014, 3:55 PM|
Its OK to admit it: You've heard about some scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a bridge, but you're not exactly sure what all the fuss is about.
It doesn't help that it involves a lot of people who aren't considered household names by a long shot.
The so-called "Bridgegate" scandal entangling Christie and a half-dozen or so staff members who may have orchestrated a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge in September is all about the players. So far, four people have resigned or been fired, but others are under the microscope of New Jersey Democrats who are leading an investigation into the imbroglio.
And as Christie, a potential 2016 presidential contender, tries to get out from underneath this controversy, the focus will also be on which, if any, of his closest advisers knew about what happened.
Here's a primer on who's in and who's out in the Christie administration, and why they all matter.
Why she matters: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Bridget Anne Kelly wrote those words in an email to a Port Authority staffer, apparently setting in motion the ploy to close several lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September and turn the city of Fort Lee into a parking lot. Christie fired Kelly last week for lying to him. But she's likely to soon be the target of further investigation by Democrats in the New Jersey State Legislature, who are eager to get to the bottom of this traffic mess. She may be out of the Christie administration, but she's likely to remain in the public eye for some time.
Why he matters: Stepien was one of Christie's top political strategists and his two-time campaign manager. But he, along with Kelly, was fired unceremoniously last week for lying about the traffic mess. Since the bridge closings occurred in the midst of Christie's re-election campaign, and Stepien appeared to have something to do with it, it suggests the involvement of others in Christie's inner circle. New Jersey Democrats will be looking high and low for any way they can concretely tie the scandal to Christie. One of the ways they'll do that is by trying to force testimony and documents from Stepien through subpoenas.
Why he matters: On the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, David Wildstein was the Christie-appointed official who executed the lane-closing plan. Wildstein also happens to have attended the same high school as Christie, so they go way back (though Christie denied at length in a press conference last week that they are long-time friends). He was the first to resign in the bridge scandal, and for good reason: Emails and documents that were released last week show that Wildstein was deeply involved in the lane closures and even went to the bridge to survey the ensuing traffic nightmare. Wildstein got out of testifying in a hearing last week by pleading the Fifth, but what he knows is crucial to sorting out the details of the case.
Why he matters: He was the highest-ranking official on the New Jersey side of the Port Authority until Christie replaced him in December. It's a powerful post that goes to loyalists, and Baroni proved himself to be one in this case. When the New York side of the George Washington Bridge tried to undo the traffic damage caused by Christie's aides, Baroni stepped in to try to stop them from communicating with the media.
Why he matters: When it came time to deal with the growing fallout in the media over the lane closings, Michael Drewniak was the man. Drewniak is the public voice of the Christie administration, and emails and documents show that he was in the loop with other officials who have since been fired. Drewniak is still in the job, but it's likely that he'll be called to surrender documents or testify as part of the state legislature's ongoing investigation.
Why he matters: Samson, a former New Jersey attorney general, is one of the top Christie-appointed officials on the board of the powerful Port Authority. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Samson's involvement in Bridgegate, despite his assertions and Christie's that he had no knowledge of it. In one email a Christie staffer, David Wildstein, suggested that Samson helped them "retaliate" against New York officials who had ordered the lanes reopened. And in other emails, Samson criticized New York officials for leaking information to the press about the lane closures.
Why she matters: As Chris Christie's inner circle continues to shrink, Comella, a communications guru, is one of his remaining trusted aides. She's known for devising a plan to put the New Jersey governor's most video-worthy moments on YouTube for the entire country to see. She focuses on both the state and national communications with an eye on how a positive local story can get national play, even if it is a small moment. Like others on Christie's staff, including Stepien, she is an alumna of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign. And if Christie runs in 2016, she's like to be a player there as well.
Why he matters: Mike DuHaime is the Christie political guru who handles the bigger national picture and Christie's future political plans. He travels with the New Jersey governor when he travels across the country to fund raise, even when he was campaigning with Mitt Romney in 2012. He doesn't get bogged down in state details. Instead, he focuses on the larger political picture. But with Stepien now kicked out of the Christie orbit in New Jersey and the Republican Governor's Association, DuHaime is the man to watch.