The George Washington Bridge lane closings scandal continued to unfold over the weekend, as media outlets spotlighted bits and pieces of information contained in the hundreds of pages of documents released on Friday, and alternate theories began being floated by observers and pundits.
For everything that has been learned about the lane closings — which caused a massive, multi-day traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J. — there are still major unanswered questions in this story.
Here are four big ones:
Who Ordered The Lane Closures?
Of all the aspects of the scandal that remain unknown, this might be the most basic: who came up with the plan to close the lanes and who gave the order to close them? We still don’t know. At his press conference on Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said that he still didn’t know, either.
The terse email exchange on Aug. 13 between top Christie aide Bridget Kelly and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein (“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” “Got it”) strongly suggest both had previously discussed the plan. But we don’t know how and when those previous discussions occurred, and who else may have been involved.
Who Was The Target — And Why?
Was it the mayor? Or the state Senate Democrats? Or did it have to do with a billion-dollar redevelopment project?
No one yet can quite agree on just who was supposed to be the target of the lane closures, and what the motive was. The longest-standing theory is that the traffic jam was political retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election last year.
Sokolich’s version of events changed over the weekend. While he had previously stated that he could not recall a specific request for an endorsement, Sokolich now says that a Christie re-election campaign staffer had in fact contacted him last spring, to see if the mayor would endorse the governor.
“I said, ‘Yes, I’ll consider it, because I’ll consider anything,’” Sokolich told The New York Times.
One document released last week provides support for the Sokolich-as-target theory. In a letter he sent to Port Authority executive Bill Baroni on Sept 12 — three days after the lane closures began — Sokolich indicated that Port Authority police officers were telling commuters that the closings were his fault.
But other theories are swirling. Some people don’t consider the Democratic mayor of a small town a big enough target. They just don’t buy it.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow’s theory last week was that the target might have been the state Senate Majority Leader, whose district includes part of Fort Lee. But the top Democrat in the Senate shot that theory down on Friday.
The latest hot theory involves a billion-dollar commercial, residential, and business complex called “Hudson Lights,” which is being built right next to the George Washington Bridge.
What Did Christie Know And When Did He Know It?
This is the classic scandal question, and it’s still an open one here. As the Wall Street Journal reporter Ted Mann, who was one of the earliest reporters on the story, explained in an article on Sunday, Christie has offered two different timelines of when he learned about the lane closures.
At a news conference on Dec. 13, Christie suggested that he learned about the issue after the news media reported on an angry email sent Sept. 13 by Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority. The Journal reported on details from that email on Oct. 1. But last week, Christie said he had learned about the lane closings earlier than the when Foye’s email became publicly known.
“It wasn’t when Pat Foye’s emails — I think there was an earlier story than that,” Christie said.
Were Any Crimes Committed?
Ultimately, this might be the biggest question. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey confirmed on Thursday that it was evaluating whether federal laws were broken in the lane closings. But that’s a far way away from actually bringing any charges.
Legal experts told TPM last week that not enough information had yet been made public to say with any certainty what crimes prosecutors might consider. But like the rest of the public, prosecutors and investigators have much still to learn about the scandal.
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