New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's political future hangs on a single fact: that he was telling the truth when he said he had no idea his administration was involved in shutting down lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in the scandal now known as Bridgegate.
Now, an attorney for a former Port Authority official claims the governor did know about the lane closures, when they happened, and there is evidence to prove it.
If this allegation is true, it would be a significant if not fatal blow to the Republican golden boy who aimed to turn his governorship into a run for president in 2016.
The damaging claim comes in a letter from Alan Zegas, an attorney for David Wildstein, who resigned from the Port Authority for New York and New Jersey in December over the bridge scandal. Wildstein was thrust into the national spotlight on January 8, when emails and text message transcripts about the lane closures revealed his deep involvement in planning, executing and covering the lane closure scheme.
"[E]vidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference," Zegas wrote in the letter, dated January 31.
If Zegas's allegations are true, Christie becomes at best a liar, at worst complicit in a cover-up of a federal crime. If Christie turns out to have lied, but was not a plotter, he loses credibility in all the other scandals swirling around him right now. If the worst is true, Christie's governorship is on the line.
"If it's the worst type of evidence as Wildstein says, he's on the verge of being forced out of office," said a Democratic consultant in New Jersey who declined to be named due to the sensitive nature of the issue. "I don't think that's a stretch."
As if on cue, the editorial board of the New Jersey Star-Ledger has issued a call for Christie's resignation if the allegations turn out to be true. "If this proves to be true, then the governor must resign or be impeached. Because it will show that everything he said at his famous two-hour press conference was a lie," the board wrote Friday afternoon.
The day after the email and text transcripts leaked, Christie gave a two-hour-long press conference in which he denied any knowledge of the lane closures, insisted his own aides had lied to him, and said he was personally saw no logic why the lanes would be closed if not for a traffic study. Wildstein, along with deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly who was also mentioned in the transcripts, took the fall that day.
Zegas contends in the letter that in the press conference Christie lied about his client. "Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some," the letter states.
The timing of Zegas's letter could be significant. Two weeks ago, the state legislature's investigating committee on Bridgegate issued 20 subpoenas, including to Christie administration and campaign officials, to see what they know about the scandal.
Those subpoenas are due to the committee in three days, on Monday February 3. Now that Zegas claims evidence exists, it would be particularly unwise for anyone under subpoena to withhold that evidence.
Wildstein has indicated, through his attorney, that in exchange for immunity he would be prepared to shed "significant light" on what happened in Bridgegate. Zegas's letter came in response to the Port Authority's decision not to cover Wildstein's legal fees in the matter.
UPDATE: Christie's office flatly denied the allegations from Wildstein's attorney in a statement late Friday afternoon: “Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with. As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”