Gov. Christie’s Shadow Over Bridgegate

It has been a riveting few days in the tragicomic opera known as Bridgegate, now playing at the federal courthouse in Newark. Bridget Anne Kelly, whom we last saw disappearing under the wheels of a bus, shoved there by Gov. Chris Christie, re-emerged on the witness stand, testifying in her own defense. In an emotional climax to the six-week trial, she pointed the finger at her former boss as a bully and a liar.

If you haven’t followed Bridgegate, it’s one tortured libretto. Ms. Kelly was Mr. Christie’s deputy chief of staff, until he fired her after the scandal broke. She and a co-defendant, Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, are accused of scheming, then covering up, the closing of lanes at the George Washington Bridge, causing an epic four-day traffic jam. Their alleged motive was to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Mr. Christie’s re-election. Mr. Christie, who is not on trial, says he didn’t know about the lane closings, though three people have contradicted him under oath — Ms. Kelly, Mr. Baroni and David Wildstein, a former Christie ally who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the plot and was a chief prosecution witness.

The defense rested its case on Wednesday. Summations were scheduled for Thursday, and jury deliberations for Monday.

The testimony and evidence are a pileup of contradictions and self-serving exculpation. Emails in evidence suggested that Ms. Kelly, Mr. Baroni and others on the Christie team took cruel pleasure in the traffic disaster and in the vain pleadings by the mayor for help. But Ms. Kelly’s defense skillfully wove a tale of the scorned aide as a terrified victim, someone who had honestly believed the lanes had been closed for a “traffic study.” In this account, a seemingly damning email (“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”) was sent matter-of-factly; she wasn’t cackling. In the poignant phase of her testimony, Ms. Kelly told of her efforts to belong to the Christie club and the abuse she took from the boss, who, she said, once threw a water bottle at her.

Mr. Christie remained the offstage villain, the Mephistopheles of Trenton, but it was impossible for even casual trial observers not to discern, from witness after witness, the evident viciousness and grubbiness of the governor and his administration. He does exert a strange gravity, like some lonely planet, pulling lesser moons into orbit while greedily circling other bodies of greater mass and density: first the White House, and then the decaying gas giant Donald Trump. Mr. Christie, who with the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani remains one of Mr. Trump’s dead-end defenders, is apparently still leading Mr. Trump’s presidential transition team.

Whatever verdict is delivered in the Bridgegate trial, the picture of Mr. Christie and his administration that has been exposed is devastating. One can search the news accounts in vain for honorable motives, for openness and integrity, for a sense of “public service” as that overworked term is understood.

A supreme example of Mr. Christie’s venality was, oddly enough, not discussed at trial — the taxpayer dollars that Mr. Christie wasted to commission a friendly Bridgegate investigation by Randy Mastro, a former aide to Mr. Giuliani. The report, to nobody’s surprise, found Mr. Christie blameless:

“Governor Christie’s account of these events rings true. It is corroborated by many witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide.”

Right. That sounded like a ridiculous whitewash then, but even more so now. Truthfulness will be for the jury to decide, but it’s clear somebody’s lying, or everybody is.

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