Chris Christie has been ditched from Donald Trump’s inner circle over his handling of the Bridgegate scandal, sources claim.
A source close to the president-elect’s transition team said that Trump is furious the New Jersey governor is letting his former aides take the fall, the New York Post reports
Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni, were found guilty earlier this month for the plot to close down lanes at the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retribution. The most serious charges could see both defendants in jail for as many as 20 years.
Christie, who avoided charges, has always denied knowing about the plot. But it appears that Trump is questioning that account.
‘Trump thought it was shameful that Christie didn’t take the fall for [convicted aide] Bridget Kelly,’ said the source. ‘Trump is really angry that Christie is sending a soccer mom to jail. He believes 100 percent that Christie was behind it all.’
‘Trump really doesn’t like it when married women with kids get hurt in politics,’ said the source. ‘Trump was pretty disgusted with Christie.’
Christie had been eyeing a presidential run in 2016, and was later considered as Donald Trump’s running mate before the Republican presidential candidate plumped for Mike Pence.
Sources had told the New York Post that while Trump had been keen on Christie, his top aides as well as his two oldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, had urged him to take Pence.
After Trump appointed Pence as his Vice President-elect, Christie was appointed to lead his transition team – even though Trump said last year that he thought the governor ‘totally knew’ about the lane closing plot.
But his failure to take responsibility for the scandal appears to have been the end of his relationship with Trump.
On Friday, the role of chair of Trump’s transition team was officially handed to Pence. Christie was shunted to the token position of vice chair while a loyal Trump supporter, Peter Thiel, was given a leadership role.
Christie said in a statement Friday: ‘I am proud to have run the pre-election phase of the transition team along with a thoroughly professional and dedicated team of people. I want to thank President-elect Trump for the opportunity to continue to help lead in this next phase.’
‘She was a factor in the decision because Trump didn’t like seeing her crying,’ the source said.
Tensions had been growing between Trump and Christie for some time.
Insiders had begun to question his loyalty after Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes were leaked on October 7, which showed him bragging about being able to ‘grab women by the p***y’.
Christie appeared to distance himself shortly after the footage emerged, and cancelled appearances on Sunday shows, the second debate and even cancelled campaigning with Trump in the last weekend of the race.
Another source said that Christie had been tolerated in the past because he was viewed as ‘a kind of nice Tony Soprano’ but now Trump had been elected, that was over.
Others viewed him as a ‘stupid thug’ that needs to go.
Christie previously called the Bridgegate plot to punish a Democratic mayor for not endorsing his re-election ‘one of the most abjectly stupid things I’ve ever seen.’
The six-week trial of his closest former aides has served to further tarnish the Christie’s damaged public reputation.
The governor had been among the front runners to be selected as Trump’s VP until the Bridgegate trial.
But Christie denies that Bridgegate was the reason why Trump selected Pence over him.
‘We all have political baggage. I think he thought Mike was the better choice,’ he said, although he admitted it could have had an impact.
‘You’d have to ask Donald Trump. But Donald Trump didn’t call me and say, ‘You’re not gonna be vice president because of Bridgegate,” he said.
Job approval ratings for Christie were also down to their lowest point at just 21 per cent, the Washington Post reports, adding that his political career had ‘sustained a serious blow’.
A recent Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found more than half of voters believed there was ‘sufficient proof’ Christie knew of the lane closures.
Despite the knock-backs in the wake of the scandal, Christie thinks claims his political career are ‘over’ have been exaggerated.
‘Their conclusion is a snapshot in time,’ he said of those reports. ‘I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told my political career was over. Here I am.’
The New Jersey governor insists that he had been an unfair target of the media for the past three years, and had been unable to defend himself because of the judicial proceedings.
‘Now I can talk,’ he added.
The plot that led to the convictions Friday of Kelly and Baroni, stemmed from Christie’s political team’s efforts to build bipartisan support they hoped would eventually help him in this year’s presidential election.
The two officials were accused of shutting down access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013, thereby creating a massive days-long traffic jam to punish a local mayor for declining to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign.
The ploy was allegedly retaliation against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich who refused to endorse Christie for reelection in 2013.
Instead, the scandal and criminal case that came from the plot has dragged Christie down, helping to keep his own presidential campaign from going anywhere and featuring testimony reinforcing Christie’s reputation among his critics as a bully.
The trial also included allegations that he knew more about the lane closings than he’s previously claimed.
Christie said again Friday that he had no knowledge of the plot and said he would ‘set the record straight’ soon about ‘the lies told by the media and in the courtroom.’
‘I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments and had no role in authorizing them,’ Christie said. ‘No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue.’
Beyond the Trump presidential campaign, the fallout from Friday’s verdict included Democrats calling for a new investigation in to the governor’s role and calls for impeachment from liberal groups in New Jersey.
Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison said Christie was damaged by ‘the narcissistic way’ he was portrayed at the trial.
‘These convictions will be an essential defining feature of Christie’s legacy in office,’ she said, ‘and will forever taint how his administration is perceived and will be remembered.’
Kelly and Baroni’s co-conspirator, the former Port Authority executive and confessed mastermind David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and appeared as the government’s star witness, detailing how the three officials schemed to pay back Sokolich, a Democrat.
Kelly and Baroni testified during the trial that they were under the impression the lane closures were part of a study by Wildstein.
Wildstein also implicated Christie, saying he and Baroni discussed the lane closures with the governor while they were ongoing.
Christie, Wildstein testified, laughed at the notion that Sokolich was frustrated by the traffic.
The governor insists all he was told was that there was traffic at the George Washington Bridge ‘and that the mayor was not getting his phone calls returned.’
Kelly, who took the stand in her defense, testified she had discussed the lane closures with Christie a month beforehand, though she said she thought at the time they were part of a legitimate traffic study.
Christie told CBS he has ‘absolutely no recollection’ of any of his aides telling him about the deliberate plot to create traffic.
Source: Daily Mail UK