‘Bridgegate’ Indictments, Pleas Answer Some Questions – But Many More Remain
What about Stepien and Samson? Will Legislature revive its own probe? And how will it all impact Christie’s political ambitions?
With all the dramatic news Friday about the Bridgegate scandal, what may have been even more significant were some of the questions still unanswered.
What about key players like Bill Stepien, Gov. Chris Christie’s chief political strategist, and David Samson, Christie’s mentor?
Did the indictments of former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni, and former Port Authority official David Wildstein’s guilty pleas to two counts of conspiracy, give momentum to state-level investigations and hearings -- or did they take the steam out of those probes?
And what will Christie himself decide to do?
NJ Spotlight poses the questions not answered on Friday:
1. Is there more to come on Bridgegate?
The immediate question is whether the charges as we know them are true. Is David Wildstein telling the truth, and were Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni complicit in the alleged conspiracy?
Yet U.S Attorney Paul Fishman probably made as much news on Friday in announcing that he did not anticipate any more federal charges, at least not based on the evidence he has before him.
At the same time, he left open the possibility that there might be more to come, referring to so-called “others” and un-indicted conspirators, and hedging on saying whether he would be referring any of his office’s findings to state law-enforcement.
Do these “others” include those deep within Christie’s inner circle, such as Bill Stepien, his chief strategist, who lost his job over the scandal? Or any other staffers still in the Statehouse?
Fishman went out of his way to stress that these were the only charges he could bring under federal law, but he did not rule out whether that there could have been violations of state laws.
2. What about David Samson?
That’s maybe the biggest question of all: Was the former chairman of the Port Authority and Christie confidante complicit in this or any broader scheme?
Fishman seemed to clear Sampson of complicity in the Bridgegate affair itself, but Sampson’s name still comes up in ongoing inquiries into whether he used his influence to steer Port Authority business to his own clients in other ways.
Most intriguing is the story of the so-called “chairman’s flight” -- accusations that a weekly round-trip flight provided by United Airlines out of Newark Liberty International Airport to South Carolina was a preferential deal provided to Samson so he could visit his nearby country.
Once Samson resigned from the agency, the flight was canceled.
Fishman didn’t touch that topic or mention Samson’s name at all on Friday, but he still clearly left open the possibility that there was more to come.
3. What about the Port Authority as a whole?
Again, Fishman didn’t address questions about whether there was a culture of corruption at the bi-state agency.
“I don’t comment on culture,” he said in response to one specific question.
But there’s no shortage of lingering questions, ranging from the Port Authority’s funding of repairs to the Pulaski Skyway to work at the Atlantic City Airport, two projects seemingly far removed from the agency’s mission.
4. How and when will the Democrats jump back in?
Democratic leaders have largely been sitting back and watching the latest developments, but they’re sure to have more to say as the 2017 gubernatorial election looms.
Most immediately, will the Legislature revive its hearings into details of the Bridgegate scandal? One has to wonder, as state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski were on hand and readily available on Friday and through the weekend to comment on the indictments and pleas.
But with a full-fledged criminal investigation under way, both legislators also suggested that what appears most likely are future hearings on broader good-government reforms targeting the Port Authority and other state agencies.
5. What happens to Gov. Christie?
That’s the most intriguing question of all: How does this affect Chris Christie and his political aspirations? Will the scandal sink those ambitions? Or will he survive the scandal? That’s a chapter still to be written.