'Bridge-gate' ends, not with a bang, but a whimper

All those gallons of ink spilled, all those hours of breathless round-the-clock coverage on MSNBC, all the blog posts from liberal writers quivering with the excitement of hungry chihuahuas at the thought of being just one revelation away from bringing down a sitting Republican governor… and yet “Bridge-gate” ends with a wet paper bag full of nothing, delivered by the Justice Department and reported by NBC News in New York:

The U.S. Justice Department investigation into Gov. Chris Christie???s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal has thus far uncovered no evidence indicating that he either knew in advance or directed the closure of traffic lanes on the span, federal officials tell NBC 4 New York.

The September 2013 closures — where several entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee were shut down, causing a traffic nightmare for commuters — has been the subject of several federal and state investigations.

Federal officials caution that the investigation that began nine months ago is ongoing and that no final determination has been made, but say that authorities haven’t uncovered anything that indicates that Christie knew in advance or ordered the closure of traffic lanes.

When the final report is issued, Christie may still face complications from the scandal, said Lee Miringoff, Director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

???That???s good news for him,??? Miringoff said. ???The bad news remains that politically as chief executive it looks like he was not in control of his administration at the time when this occurred. So that remains the downside for him. That doesn???t go away but this panel provides greater credibility barring any further revelations coming out.???

See, you can still annoy someone by clubbing him with a wet paper bag, provided you blow hard enough into the bag to inflate it first.  Let’s draw a Venn diagram showing the intersection between those who think Bridge-gate is an eternal monument to Chris Christie’s managerial failures, even as investigations validate everything he said on Day One, and those who think Benghazi is a nothingburger that doesn’t reflect on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in any way, even though nothing they said on Days One (through about Day Twenty-One or so) was true.

Christie’s problems aren’t going to go away with the end of this particular saga.  His plate remains full enough.  It’s just fun to contrast the way things are being reported now with the incandescent doomsday coverage it got nine months ago,  which was itself amusing when compared to the media blackouts on far more significant Obama stories.  I’ll bet the Tea Party and pro-life groups targeted by the weaponized IRS would have traded their ordeals for a traffic detour.  Somehow we got through the Bridge-gate investigation without hearing any epic fantasies about shredded hard drives from Trenton.

Keep hope alive, Bridge-gate devotees!  Something might eventually stick to Christie.  It’s not like Eric Holder’s hyper-politicized Justice Department is going to formally throw in the towel any time soon.  A few weeks of half-hearted investigation into Operation Fast and Furious after it killed an American Border Patrol agent was too much, but the New Jersey bridge investigation will simmer on the back burner until… oh, say, the end of the 2016 Republican primary season:

It’s not clear when federal authorities will conclude their investigation or if criminal charges will be handed down to Christie’s aides. There are still other angles to the investigation, including how Port Authority funds were used. It is unclear where that part of the investigation might be going. 

Christie, whose office initially declined to comment, said of NBC 4 New York’s report in a radio interview with New Jersey 101.5’s Eric Scott Thursday evening, “I don’t want to overreact to it because I’m not surprised by it, and I’m hoping that, you know, we can start to focus on things that are important to all the people in the state of New Jersey.”

According to one former federal prosecutor who had no involvement in any of the probes into the lane closures, investigations of this kind will often turn up a solid connection early in the inquiry.

???My experience with federal law enforcement is that once you reach critical mass if you don???t have it within nine months or so, you???re not likely to ever get it,??? former federal prosecutor Robert W. Ray said.

Representatives for the Justice Department, the FBI and New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman???s office all declined comment.

Christie, unsurprisingly, has lost patience with the endless investigations, as reported by the Cherry Hill Courier-Post:

Gov. Chris Christie said the legislative investigation of the George Washington Bridge scandal “is a partisan pursuit” and he urged panel members to “wrap up your work.”

The Republican governor said Democrats leading the committee “care more about being on television then they care about actually getting to the truth,” and he threatened to restrict access to his administration.

“The fact is they’ve been digging around for eight months and have found absolutely nothing that contradicted one factual statement I made standing behind this podium on Jan. 9,” the Republican governor said at a press conference on an unrelated topic Thursday.

“You know what? Wrap up your work. Do your job,” Christie said. “I’m tired of it. I really am. I am not going to permit them, when they conduct themselves in an irresponsible way, to have an unfettered access to this office just so they can use themselves as a highway to the media.”

Of course, that’s just what he’d say if he were still hiding something!

Christie’s criticism Thursday afternoon was delivered in response to a reporter’s question about comments from panel leader Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, on the need for the administration to provide additional documents.

Christie in turn faulted the “leadership” ??? which also includes Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, who is co-chairwoman ??? for leaking information about the investigation to the media.

Weinberg said Christie’s comments were “not surprising,” adding, “If I were him, I would wish the investigation would go away, as well.”

Weinberg said it’s been “unfortunate” that evidence classified as non-public has been cited in media reports.

“I don’t think there should be leaks,” said Weinberg, but she accused Christie of doing the same in the job he had before he was governor. Christie was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2008.

“I remember a U.S. attorney who engaged in the same kind of thing,” Weinberg said.

Wisniewski said the criticism was a result of a behind-the-scenes battle over documents the committee wants but are being withheld by the Christie administration. Wisniewski said Christie’s lawyers are claiming executive privilege without specifically using that term.

“Now he’s saying he won’t cooperate. In my opinion, he’s never fully cooperated. As a committee, we’ll have to decide what to do next,” Wisniewski said. “It seems to me the governor is going through a lot of hoops to avoid having people look into what happened.”

Christie said Wisniewski and others “are people that are addicted to MSNBC and the front page of your papers. Nobody wants to cover it anymore, so they have to leak something to get someone to cover it. I’m certainly beginning to have concerns about the level of openness that I’ve showed to the committee.”

Somewhere out there is a cell-phone photo of Chris Christie in an orange vest and hard hat, standing athwart the George Washington Bridge and waving a sign that says “DEMOCRATS MUST DETOUR.’  I just know it.


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