inside the scandal

Here are the basics of the scandal that has embroiled Gov. Chris Christie, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016:

Q: How did this get started?

A: In September, the Port Authority closed two of three local access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge, which connects the two states and is the most heavily traveled bridge in the world. The closures created a traffic bottleneck in Fort Lee that has been described as the worst traffic jam since Sept. 11, 2001.

Q: How did it become political?

A: The media began asking why two of three lanes were closed and why the authorities didn’t seem to be prepared for the ensuing traffic problems. Then, Democrats began to allege that it was political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election.

Q: Was Christie involved?

A: There is no evidence showing Christie knew about or took part in the scheme.

Q: Who was involved?

A: So far, the major players.

• Bridget Anne Kelly: Christie’s former deputy chief of staff appeared to get the ball rolling by sending an e-mail to a Port Authority official saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” She was fired Thursday.

• David Wildstein: He was the Port Authority official on the receiving end of Kelly’s e-mail, to which he responded: “Got it.” From the beginning, he was the official who Christie said was behind the “traffic study.” He resigned in December.

• Bill Baroni: He was Christie’s top appointee on the Port Authority. He resigned a week after Wildstein. Christie said Baroni failed to follow protocol in informing local officials about the study.

Q: Why would Christie’s office target a Democratic mayor for not endorsing him?

A: In most states, a GOP governor would hardly expect a Democrat’s endorsement. But the same rules rarely apply in New Jersey.

Q: What is a Port Authority?

A: It is a governing body that manages transit — via bridges, tunnels and air — in New York City and northern New Jersey. It is run by the governors of both states.

Q: What’s in the e-mails and texts?

A: A bunch of juicy plotting and ill-advised commentary, such as:

• Further talk of the lane closures about the “traffic study” that they were preparing.

• Talking about Sokolich’s frustration, an unidentified person said, “Is it wrong that I am smiling?” and added, “I feel badly about the kids … I guess.”

• Another responds, “They are the children of Buono voters,” referring to Christie’s Democratic opponent in the 2013 campaign.

Q: Why is Christie in trouble?

A: He was previously very dismissive of the scandal, calling it “not that big a deal” and accusing the media of sensationalism. He also said that the lane closures weren’t political in nature.

Q: Is any of this illegal?

A: Probably, but it’s not clear that criminal charges will result. Jim Cohen, a professor at Fordham University Law School, puts it this way: “There’s no doubt that the actions, whether Christie is responsible or not, violated a host of federal and state regulations. It’s not clear at this point that there is criminal liability, but there certainly may be civil liability.” More than anything, this is a public-relations nightmare for Christie’s office, which now has to deal with the perception that it uses official resources for political payback.

Washington Post