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Christie scandal: Political damage control

 (CNN) -- New Jersey lawmakers will release 907 pages of documents Friday that could shed new light on a scandal that's forced an "embarrassed and humiliated" Gov. Chris Christie to apologize over a bit of apparent political retribution he says went no higher than his deputies.

The political star of Christie, a potential Republican presidential contender, hangs in the balance as a New Jersey state Assembly committee and the U.S. attorney's office for the District of New Jersey looks into allegations that Christie staffers orchestrated huge traffic jams on a busy interstate bridge to punish the mayor of a town that declined to endorse the governor's re-election.
Christie has disavowed any knowledge of the September shenanigans on the George Washington Bridge, which Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, said caused residents of his town "misery and agony."

E-mails that surfaced this week appear to show a top Christie staffer, Bridget Anne Kelly, and a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- which operates the bridge -- coordinated lane closures that severely affected traffic around Fort Lee for four days in September.

According to copies of the e-mails obtained by CNN, Kelly wrote Port Authority official David Wildstein that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
"Got it," Wildstein responded.

Christie fired Kelly on Thursday, saying he was "blindsided" by the revelations of her involvement. Wildstein, who resigned from his job in December, has refused to talk to a state committee investigating the issue.

On Thursday, he obeyed a judge's order to appear before the committee. But he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.

The committee then charged him with contempt.

The 907 pages of documents to be released Friday were collected under a subpoena issued to Wildstein.

They are expected to be posted to a state website midmorning, according to a committee spokesman.

While the documents could be revelatory, the committee's chairman, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, accused Christie of still holding back.

"We intend to continue our investigation, but this would all be made easier if Gov. Christie did the right thing and voluntarily released all communications so everyone could find out with certainty what happened," Wisniewski said in a statement. "If he's truly dedicated to transparency and the truth from here on out, he will take this step and cooperate fully with the committee's work."
Christie and his staff originally blamed the closures and the traffic delays on a mishandled traffic study, something he reiterated at his news conference.
He said he didn't know if it was "a traffic study that morphed into a political vendetta or a political vendetta that morphed into a traffic study."

The incident inconvenienced motorists but also affected public safety, Fort Lee officials said.

The emergency services chief in the town referred to one case in a letter to the mayor obtained by CNN involving paramedics who were delayed in reaching an elderly woman who had suffered a heart attack and died.

The woman's daughter said she does not believe the delays resulted in her death, however.

In addition to the legislative inquiry and the U.S. attorney's office investigation, Christie is facing a class-action lawsuit filed Thursday against the governor, Kelly, Wildstein and another former Port Authority official, Bill Baroni. The lawsuit argues the lane closures caused traffic jams that made them late to work and caused lost wages.

The scandal threatens to imperil Christie's presidential ambitions but has not necessarily derailed them, Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley wrote in an opinion piece for CNN.com.

"He's a resourceful politician and it's still many months before campaigning starts in earnest," Stanley wrote. "But now, his opponents have a stick to beat him with."

 
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Washington Times