Questions, answers about NJ traffic jam
- Article by: GEOFF MULVIHILL
- Associated Press
- January 9, 2014 - 4:20 PM
TRENTON, N.J. — News has been moving quickly on several fronts in New Jersey after newly revealed documents suggested that lanes on the approach to the George Washington Bridge were closed for political reasons.
Here are some answers to questions about scandal and its fallout:
Q: How did this start?
A: For four days in September, two of the three approach lanes from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge — one of the world's busiest spans — were closed, causing massive gridlock on the town's streets, delaying emergency vehicles, school buses and commuters.
There had been suggestions for months that the closure was done to punish the town's mayor — a Democrat — for his refusal to endorse Republican Gov. Chris Christie for re-election. Copies of emails and text messages obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press and other media organizations showed that was apparently what happened.
Q. What did the emails and texts show?
A. Perhaps the most damning was an August email from Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, to Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official Bill Wildstein declaring, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." His response: "Got it." Other Christie administration officials and appointees were named or were part of some exchanges.
Q. What is the Port Authority?
A. It's the agency that runs the New York City area airports, the PATH commuter train and bridges and tunnels connecting New Jersey and New York, as well as the World Trade Center. Its board and top staff are among the most plum political appointments available to the governors of New York and New Jersey.
Q: Who has lost their jobs in the flap?
A: Two Christie Port Authority appointees — Wildstein and deputy director Bill Baroni — resigned last month.
On Thursday, Christie fired Kelly. He also announced Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager, was ordered to end his bid to be state GOP chairman. Christie had previously nominated Stepien to that role. Stepien is also losing his contract as a consultant with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs.
Q: Are there investigations into what happened?
A: Yes, at least three of them.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said Thursday that he's looking into whether any laws were broken. The Port Authority's inspector general is also investigating.
The state Assembly's Transportation Committee has also been investigating and subpoenaed emails from 7 people at the Port Authority, including Wildstein and Baroni. The committee held a hearing Thursday and called Wildstein to testify. Wildstein appeared but refused to answer questions at his lawyer's advice. He was accused of contempt, charges a prosecutor could pursue.
Q: How were the closures initially explained?
A: In November, after lawmakers raised questions, Baroni said the closures were part of a traffic study. The results of the supposed study were never released, but Baroni provided lawmakers with some data about travel times.
Q: What did Christie know about what happened?
A: The emails didn't directly implicate Christie in the shutdown. Christie said he learned Wednesday from news reports that the lanes were closed for political reasons. He said he previously had asked staff members repeatedly if they had been involved and they said they had not.
He said Thursday that he was still unclear about what happened. He said he doesn't know if it was a "rogue political operation that morphed into a traffic study" or if it was the other way around.
Q: Will Christie probe the matter further?
A: He said in an apologetic news conference that lasted nearly two hours on Thursday that he did not plan his own investigation so as not to interfere with the others underway.
Q: What does this mean for the political future for Christie, a Republican star who is considered a possible 2016 presidential contender?
A: Some political observers and operatives believe his political career will not be ended by it. But the flap does give opponents a line of attack, portraying him as deeply partisan and vindictive — exactly the opposite of the image he has sought to project of a pragmatic bipartisan willing to make principled compromises.
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