Monday 11 December 2017

Christie hit with lawsuit as US bridge scandal deepens

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (second left) and his former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly (right). Reuters
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (second left) and his former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly (right). Reuters

Jon Swaine New York

CHRIS Christie, the New Jersey governor, is facing legal action over massive traffic jams created when his staff orchestrated the closure of a major bridge for political revenge.

Six motorists who were stuck in traffic during the closures filed a class-action lawsuit against the Christie administration, in what is expected to be the first of several legal challenges.

Their lawyer, Rosemarie Arnold, said they missed work because of a "reprehensible, outrageous situation caused by political motivation".

However, Vilma Oleri, whose 91-year-old mother died after her ambulance was caught in the first day of the traffic jam, said she did not believe the traffic delays were the cause and would not take any legal action as it was "her time".

AMBITIONS

The Republican governor was also bracing himself for the release of almost 1,000 new documents on the gridlock scandal, which has damaged his presidential ambitions.

A panel of state legislators was due to publish 907 pages obtained under subpoena from one of Mr Christie's top transport officials, who inflicted gridlock on the town of a political foe.

Emails published earlier this week showed that the official, David Wildstein, agreed to create "traffic problems" in the town of Fort Lee under orders from Bridget Anne Kelly, Mr Christie's deputy chief of staff.

They brought days of jams to Fort Lee in mid-September last year by engineering the needless closure of lanes to the George Washington bridge, which connects New Jersey with New York.

The closures appeared to be an act of retribution for the refusal of Fort Lee's mayor, Mark Sokolich, to join dozens of fellow state Democrats in endorsing Mr Christie's re-election as governor last November.

Mr Christie denied knowledge of the orders, and yesterday Mr Sokolich said he would "take him at his word".

"I'm glad he came. I take him for his word, which is (that) he had nothing to do with it," Mr Sokolich said following Mr Christie's visit to the town to offer his apologies. We, in Fort Lee, are not rooting for facts to. . . come about and surface that would suggest that he was involved."

Mr Christie's passionate pronouncement that he had no personal "knowledge or involvement" in the lane closures satisfied some critics in the short term but creates political risk amid ongoing investigations.

Democrats and Republicans said the governor's presidential prospects could be severely undermined, if not crippled, should evidence emerge that contradicts his denials.

David Axelrod, a top adviser to US President Barack Obama's campaigns, said Mr Christie handled the high-profile news conference "as well as he could".

Unless a smoking gun turns up, "he lives to fight another day," Mr Axelrod tweeted.

LIED

Mr Christie said he fired Ms Kelly, "because she lied to me" when he demanded weeks ago that anyone who knew anything about the episode come forward.

He also cut ties to former campaign manager Bill Stepien, asking him to withdraw a bid to become the next state Republican Party chairman.

The governor said he was disturbed by the "callous indifference" Mr Stepien displayed in emails released this week.

Some Republicans defended the governor. "He apologised, took full responsibility and acted decisively in firing those responsible," said Fred Malek, a top Republican financial donor. "If anything, it serves to re-inforce his image as a strong and effective governor."

However, the issue is far from over for Mr Christie. Democrats in the New Jersey Legislature could spend months investigating the case, forcing Mr Christie and his staff to defend themselves and repeatedly bringing the scandal back to the limelight. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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