Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is Bridge-Gate Losing Momentum? Key Aide Says Christie Wasn't Involved

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is Bridge-Gate Losing Momentum? Key Aide Says Christie Wasn't Involved

Article excerpt

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has seen the splashy Bridge- gate headlines recede in the past few weeks, even though his administration is still beset by a number of unfinished high- profile probes into the lane-closure scandal, with key witnesses yet to testify.

And Governor Christie has been turning his attention more and more to the normal nitty-gritty of governing his state, where he is embroiled in budget battles, including his plan to balance a shortfall by diverting $2.43 billion meant for public workers' pensions, and facing critics for his record on civil rights.

At the same time, Christie has been wildly successful this year raising funds for other candidates - essential political capital for any presidential aspirant - raking in a record $50 million-plus during his first six months as chair of the Republican Governors Association. This doubled the previous record of $25 million, set by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) in 2010.

On Monday, Christie's chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd, became the highest-ranking administration official to testify before a special state legislative committee investigating the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge - a widely presumed dirty trick that has rocked the governor's national political aspirations.

Mr. O'Dowd's testimony could be a crucial moment for the legislative panel, experts believe - as well as for O'Dowd himself, whom Christie had nominated to become New Jersey's next attorney general last year. Republicans and even some Democrats have begun to call for the special committee to wrap things up, and O'Dowd's testimony could either inject new momentum into the investigation or simply repeat the Christie administration's account, with little new information gained.

"It's going to be long," promised Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democrat co-chair of the panel, about O'Dowd's testimony. "We want to know what he knew and when he knew it."

During his Monday morning testimony, however, O'Dowd carefully maintained the administration's long-held position that two rogue officials - Bridget Kelly, his deputy, and David Wildstein, a Port Authority official and Christie appointee - acted alone when ordering the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Ms. Kelly's early September e-mail to Mr. Wildstein, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," has become the tagline for the Bridge- gate controversy.

In March, an internal investigation conducted by Christie's team of attorneys also concluded that Kelly and Wildstein acted alone when they orchestrated a "traffic study," ostensibly as political retribution against Mark Sokolich, the Fort Lee mayor, a Democrat, who decided against publicly supporting the bipartisan coalition that swept Christie to a landslide reelection victory.

"[The governor] said to me, something to the effect of, this bridge issue is still out there, the noise on political retribution is still out there, this is a major distraction," O'Dowd testified about a Dec. …

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