The Fort Lee lane closure scandal, also known as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, or Bridgegate, is a U.S. political scandal in which a staff member and political appointees of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) colluded to create traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey, by closing lanes at the main toll plaza for the upper level of the George Washington Bridge.
The problems began on Monday, September 9, 2013, when two of three toll lanes for a local street entrance were closed during morning rush hour. Local officials, emergency services and the public were not notified of the lane closures, which Fort Lee declared a threat to public safety. The resulting back-ups and gridlock on local streets ended only when the two lanes were reopened on Friday, September 13, 2013, by an order from Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye. He said that the "hasty and ill-informed decision" could have endangered lives and violated federal and state laws.
The incident was investigated from a few possible motives. The prevailing theory was that the lane closures were retribution against Fort Lee's Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) for failing to endorse Christie in the 2013 gubernatorial election. That motive was alleged by federal prosecutors in May 2015, in charges against Bridget Anne Kelly, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Christie, and Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, both of whom had been Christie-appointed officials at the Port Authority. Wildstein pleaded guilty. The indictment charged that the three conspired to commit fraud by illegally exploiting Port Authority resources for political ends. Investigators had also examined other possible motives.
Christie said in a February 2014 interview that he did not know about the lane closures, did not approve or authorize them, and only became aware of them from a Wall Street Journal story after the lanes reopened. Christie ordered an internal probe be conducted by the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The firm cleared Christie of wrongdoing in their report. The report was criticized for the failure to interview key participants, including Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein, and anyone else at the Port Authority, and for reading like a legal brief for Christie's defense. The investigation and report have also been criticized, by a United States District Court Judge, for the Gibson firm's intentional failure to preserve the original notes of interviews taken by attorneys.
Investigations centered on several of Christie's appointees and staff, including Wildstein, who ordered the lanes closed, and Baroni, who had told the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee that the closures were for a traffic study. Both men resigned following sworn testimony by Port Authority officials that the two had violated protocols and then had sought to hide their involvement. Kelly had emailed Wildstein advising him that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee". She was fired by Christie, who said she had lied to him about her involvement.
David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority and a Christie appointee, resigned on March 28, 2014.
As of May 2014, investigations were underway by the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey, the New Jersey Legislature, and the Port Authority. The acting New Jersey Attorney General refused to say whether he had launched a probe. At a news conference on May 1, 2015, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman stated that, based upon the evidence that was available, his office would not bring any more charges in the case beyond the indictments against Kelly, Baroni, and Wildstein. Samson pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy in July 2016, for acts unrelated to the lane closures but unearthed by the federal Bridgegate investigation.
Christie's political standing was badly damaged by the scandal. Once considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican nomination for President, Christie dropped out of the presidential race after a poor showing in the New Hampshire primary. The scandal was widely cited as a major factor in the early demise of Christie's 2016 presidential ambitions.
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