Gov. Chris Christie’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, will appear next Monday before the state legislature’s Bridgegate committee. And if all goes well, sources say, he’ll be back before another legislative committee shortly thereafter — as a nominee for Attorney General.
The fact that Christie is willing to make O’Dowd the state’s top law enforcement officer even after he was subpoenaed over Bridgegate indicates that the Republican governor is moving past the controversy and continuing as if the last five months were just a bad dream. O’Dowd’s December nomination had been put on ice after Bridgegate broke wide open in January, but now the Democratic-controlled Senate could hold a confirmation hearing in the coming weeks.
O’Dowd’s upcoming Bridgegate hearing was announced this week with little advance notice. Sources say it was fast-tracked at the urging of Christie officials, who are eager to renominate him for the position he had been selected for late last year, five weeks before the scandal broke. A range of personnel moves were put on hold in the wake of the scandal, including the advancement of senior Christie staffer Regina Egea to O’Dowd’s chief of staff position.
Some legislative sources see O’Dowd’s possible renomination as an added sweetener for the governor after a deal last month between him and Democratic legislators over the reconfirmation of Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, a Democrat, and the nomination to the high court of Lee Solomon, a Republican. That would mean that Bridgegate is now firmly in the political realm, an issue that can be horse-traded between politicians like anything else.
O’Dowd, a former federal prosecutor who is said to have warm relationships with Democratic legislators, is expected to say Monday that he had nothing to do with the planning of the George Washington Bridge lane closures and that he had no clue that his direct employee, Bridget Ann Kelly, was involved.
But Democrats will question him about documents which indicate that he was aware of allegations that both Kelly and Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager, had information about the lane closures. They will ask what he did to investigate the possible criminal activities in his office, and whether he was trying to brush the controversy under the statehouse rug.