Cover-up of New Jersey bridge scandal: Gov. Christie implicated?

Since the days of Watergate, politicians have been warned that 'It's not the crime, it's the cover-up.' That seems to be the case with the George Washington Bridge scandal dogging New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Kathy Willens/AP
Governor Chris Christie talks to a reporter following a visit to Fort Lee, NJ, to apologize to Mayor Mark Sokolich about the governor's staff allegedly closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September.

“It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up” has been the prime political warning at least since Watergate.

Sometimes it shakes the roots of government, as when Richard Nixon was forced to leave the White House in disgrace. Sometimes it merely tarnishes reputations, as when Bill Clinton survived impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The political world now waits to see how the George Washington Bridge scandal turns out for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Was he merely clueless, as he claims, lied to by aides who had orchestrated traffic jams around the George Washington Bridge as punishment for a political opponent, then scrambled to spin the story if not cover it up?

Or did Christie have anything to do with manipulating the brewing scandal as reporters and others began nosing around what appears to have been a political dirty trick aimed at a Democratic mayor by some in a Republican administration?

Hundreds of emails and text messages have been released since the lid was blown off the episode and Christie had to apologize for an episode he called “embarrassing and humiliating.”

So far, there appears to be no smoking gun that might undo his political career.

But the documents released Friday show some on Christie’s staff – sometimes communicating via private email accounts – trying to portray the politically-motivated back-up around the George Washington Bridge as part of an authorized traffic study. That came as a surprise to traffic and bridge officials who complained about the traffic jams delaying commuters, school buses, and first responders trying to get through the snarl.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive director Patrick Foye (an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo) complained that the “hasty and ill-advised” lane closures endangered residents and those driving, likely in violation of state and federal law.

A New Jersey lawmaker on Saturday said he intends to formally request the Governor and his staff hand over more correspondence and documents related to the bridge scandal that has engulfed Christie, Reuters reports.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who chairs the Transportation Committee, told CNN he would make the request on Monday because "there's still a lot of documents we haven't gotten we'd like to see."

US Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor, has opened an investigation into the decision to close traffic lanes leading to the nation’s busiest bridge.

Meanwhile, six New Jersey residents have filed a federal lawsuit against Christie, the state of New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and several Christie administration officials over the traffic jams that resulted from the four days of lane closures. Others are expected to join what is likely to be a class-action suit.

Comparisons to Watergate may or may not be fair, but they’re being made nonetheless.

“The parallels are striking,” writes Paul Mulshine, a conservative columnist at the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper. “One is the margin of the landslide victories in the elections at issue. Republican Nixon beat Democrat George McGovern by 23 points in that 1972 election. Republican Christie defeated Democrat Barbara Buono by 22 points in 2013.”

“Another is in the timing,” Mulshine writes. “In both cases, the offense in question occurred in the run-up to the election. And in both cases, the offense was relatively trivial, but those involved decided to keep a lid on it until the campaign had concluded. That of course required a cover-up.”

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