TIME 2016 Election

Here’s What You Need to Know About Chris Christie’s Latest Bridge Scandal

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' conference in Washington D.C. on June 20, 2014.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' conference in Washington D.C. on June 20, 2014. Drew Angerer—EPA

Officials are investigating Christie's office's actions surrounding yet another bridge

The scandal over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge has hurt New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions, but just when Christie seemed to be moving past it, another bridge scandal put him back in the news Tuesday for all the wrong reasons.

The New York Times, citing unnamed sources briefed on the matter, reports that authorities already looking into the Christie administration’s handling of what’s become known as Bridgegate are now also probing whether the governor’s office pushed for the illegal use of funds to renovate a different bridge. While it’s easy to label this as another Bridgegate, the questions surrounding each bridge differ dramatically.

For those trying to sort out the two scandals and what they mean, TIME offers the following guide to Bridgegate, Part Two.

What are officials investigating this time?

Officials from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating possible violations of securities law. According to the Times report, Christie’s office repeatedly insisted that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey provide funds to repair an ailing state bridge despite repeated legal counsel against the move. The Pulaski Skyway, located solely in the state of New Jersey, does not fall under the purview of the Port Authority.

Why does this issue fall under securities law?

The funds in question originated from municipal bonds collected for improvements to the Lincoln Tunnel, the Times reports. If the government collected money for that purpose and spent it on something else, officials could face prosecution for misleading bondholders. The involvement of both state and federal officials suggests that investigators are examining the potential violation of both state and local securities law. The SEC and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office wouldn’t comment. In an email, a spokesman for Christie said proper legal procedures were followed and noted that Christie has publicly discussed using Port Authority funding for the bridge renovation in the past.

What is the Pulaski Skyway?

The Pulaski Skyway is a New Jersey bridge that connects Newark and Jersey City—a stretch frequented by commuters, including many headed to New York City. It has grown increasingly dilapidated in recent years. The state had to install a net to catch falling debris from the bridge. In April, it closed for a two-year renovation funded in part by the Port Authority money in question.

What are the political implications of the latest scandal?

That remains to be seen. The first bridge controversy centers on allegations that Christie allies closed lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as political retribution against a local mayor who wouldn’t endorse his reelection. The story badly damaged Christie’s reputation as a no-nonsense politician who puts governing ahead of politics. But in some ways, the latest scandal appears to suggest the opposite intent on Christie’s part. The Pulaski Skyway is a dilapidated overpass in desperate need of renovation. Repairing it undoubtedly serves the state’s interests, while closing lanes on a busy bridge that connects New Jersey and New York did not.

Still, despite the seemingly laudable goal of fixing a crumbling bridge, no politician wants another controversy, and that remains true here. Political observers still consider Christie a 2016 presidential contender, even though the Bridgegate controversy has undoubtedly stripped him of his early status as the GOP front-runner.

And what actually happened with the George Washington Bridge?

After the closing of lanes leading from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge in caused enormous traffic jams in September 2013, allegations emerged that Christie staffers had planned the disruption to wreck havoc in in Fort Lee because the town’s mayor didn’t support Christie’s reelection campaign.

Aides have resigned in the face of question and Christie has sent others packing, but Christie has always maintained he knew nothing about the lane closures or what motivated them until after the fact. An internal investigation commissioned by Christie’s office cleared him of any wrongdoing. Still, New Jersey residents remain skeptical. A poll conducted after the report’s release suggested that only 32% of residents thought Christie has been entirely honest about the issue. And 47% said they thought Christie was directly involved.

The investigations into both bridges remain ongoing.

TIME Chris Christie

Christie’s Office Faces Probe Over a Second Bridge

Faith And Freedom Coalition Holds Policy Conference
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie addresses the Faith and Freedom Coalition's 'Road to Majority' Policy Conference on June 20, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The New Jersey governor's administration has reportedly been linked to a second bridge investigation that could bring charges of intent to deceive bondholders

Associates of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have been subpoenaed for a second investigation involving a New York bridge, the New York Times reports, even as federal investigators continue to investigate the Christie administration for politically motivated lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.

The bridge at the center of the second investigation is the Pulaski Skyway, an aging four-lane causeway connecting New Jersey to Manhattan that the Christie administration had lobbied the Port Authority for $1.8 billion worth of road repairs. Port Authority lawyers objected to the request, warning that the bridge was property of the state of New Jersey and therefore could not legally be funded by the Authority.

Eventually the two sides reached an agreement that re-characterized the bridge as an access road to the Lincoln Tunnel, which more than 40 blocks north of the Skyway. Bonds issued for the repairs described the project as “Lincoln Tunnel Access Infrastructure Improvements,” the New York Times reports. If that statement is found to be inaccurate, it could run afoul of state and federal securities laws, and prompt felony charges to be brought against its authors.

Deborah Gramiccioni, the Port Authority’s deputy executive director and a Christie appointee, told the Times the plan to fund the bridge had been “thoroughly vetted” by the New Jersey attorney general lawyers. Christie has previously made similar statements about the funding of the road repairs. “Dozens and dozens of lawyers from both sides of the river reviewed that financing plan and approved it,” he said in April, “as did the commissioners of the Port Authority.”

The investigation was spun off of a prior investigation into the administration’s alleged involvement in lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in Sept. 2013 as retaliation against local political opponents.

[New York Times]

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: June 24

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Kerry in Iraq; Ex-Im debate ranges amid new investigation; primary Tuesday; Bionic future beckons

  • “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held crisis talks with leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region on Tuesday urging them to stand with Baghdad in the face of a Sunni insurgent onslaught that threatens to dismember the country.” [Reuters]
    • “What’s not debatable are the echoes of Saigon in both Baghdad and Kabul. The final U.S. troops in Vietnam headed for home in 1973. Two years later, the North Vietnamese pressed south toward the capital of Saigon, from where Nguyen Van Thieu ruled.” [TIME]
  • “The U.S. Export-Import Bank has suspended or removed four officials in recent months amid investigations into allegations of gifts and kickbacks, as well as attempts to steer federal contracts to favored companies…” [WSJ]
    • House Majority Leader-Elect Puts Ex-Im Bank in Jeopardy [TIME]
  • “The number of children caught crossing the Mexican border without an adult has jumped tenfold and is overwhelming officials charged with caring for them in federal custody.” [Hill]
  • “As the tumultuous fight for Sen. Thad Cochran’s seat in Washington hurtles toward a close on Tuesday, this bitter reality has started to dawn on Republicans here: The larger battle for power within the Mississippi Republican coalition is only just beginning.” [Politico]
    • “If Charles Rangel is going to get pushed out of Congress, it won’t be without a dance.” [Politico]
  • “Investigations into the Christie administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have zeroed in on possible securities law violations stemming from a $1.8 billion road repair agreement in 2011…” [NYT]
  • Science fiction come true: Moving a paralyzed hand with the power of thought [WashPost]
TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: June 23

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Iraq's struggling army; Domestic drones; Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's views on Ex-Im and immigration; Chris Christie's compassionate conservatism; Scott Walker's "unelectable whiteness"; New Yorker's 9,000 word profile of Ted Cruz

  • “As Iraqi Army forces try to rally on the outskirts of Baghdad after two weeks of retreat, it has become increasingly clear to Western officials that the army will continue to suffer losses in its fight with Sunni militants and will not soon retake the ground it has ceded.” [NYT]
    • “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Iraq’s prime minister in Baghdad on Monday to push for a more inclusive government, even as Baghdad’s forces abandoned the border with Jordan, leaving the entire Western frontier outside government control.” [Reuters]
    • What’s the Pentagon’s endgame in Iraq? [TIME]
  • Crashes mount as as military flies more drones in U.S. [WashPost]
  • “Incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Sunday he wouldn’t support reauthorizing the charter of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, placing in doubt the future of a major agency that facilitates U.S. exports.” [WSJ]
    • McCarthy’s role is debated in his land of immigrants [NYT]
  • How Rep. Steve Scalise smoked Rep. Peter Roskam in the House Whip race [Breitbart]
  • Paul Ryan Hammers the IRS [Slate]
  • Inside the Vast Liberal Conspiracy [Politico]
  • The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker [New Republic]
  • Ted Cruz, The Far Right’s Most Formidable Advocate [New Yorker]
  • “New Jersey governor Chris Christie has a new cause: treatment, not prison, for nonviolent drug addicts. Can it soften his image—and the Republican Party’s?” [Atlantic]
TIME celebrities

Just in Time for Father’s Day, It’s Jimmy Fallon and Chris Christie With the Evolution of Dad Dancing

From the "Belt Grabber" and the "Dance You Do at a Springsteen Concert" to the "Republican Convention"

In honor of Father’s Day, Jimmy Fallon teamed up with Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, in an epic dance medley showcasing the evolution of “dad dancing.”

And yes, they took it to the bridge …

TIME 2016 Election

Christie Cuts Pension Payments as Fiscal Record Shows Cracks

NJ Gov. Chris Christie
NJ Gov. Chris Christie Ethan Miller—Getty Images

The New Jersey governor was forced to cut pension payments to make up for lower-than-expected tax revenues, another dent in his brand as a no-nonsense reformer

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie moved Tuesday to cut more than $2 billion in state pension payments, which would cover a budgetary shortfall but is also sure to spark a political backlash.

The likely 2016 Republican presidential candidate cited the state constitution’s requirement to have a balanced budget for his decision to cut pension payments for inactive state employees. It would help close an estimated $807 million deficit in the current fiscal year, brought on by revenues that fell short of expectations. Christie said Tuesday he was caught off guard by how quickly he was again forced to confront the state’s burgeoning liabilities, blaming the state’s budget gap on overly-optimistic revenue projections by his budget economists and changes in federal tax law. He also criticized his Democratic and Republican predecessors for failing to make necessary pension payments. “We will not make the payments that apply to the sins of the past,” Christie said at a news conference.

The state will still make more than $1.3 billion in pension payments for those active in the system over the next 14 months, Christie said. He said he would present the legislature with a plan to reform pensions and benefits in the next month, and called on lawmakers to work with him to make additional changes. Christie’s decision exacerbates the burden on a stressed system, with the state putting its total unfunded pension liability at $52 billion, and calls into question one of his crowning achievements: a bipartisan 2011 pension and health care overhaul that helped propel him onto the national stage. The move comes after Christie changed the state’s pension formula earlier this year to save $900 million through the end of his term.

And it risked undercutting his political brand as a no-nonsense problem solver, a brand already hurt by the traffic scandal that put his White House hopes in peril.

“Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune in their TVs right now to see how it’s done,” Christie said last year when he handily won reelection by touting his record on reforming pensions and benefits. But Christie conceded Tuesday that the effort hasn’t made “much of a dent.”

“We’re still digging out of problems two decades in the making,” he said.

Under the 2011 agreement, Christie raised the retirement age for state employees and increased the rate at which they have to contribute to their pension and healthcare, while devoting additional resources to paying down the state’s unfunded liabilities. Indeed it was in defending the agreement that Christie first became a household name, as he bluntly debated critics in town hall meetings that quickly became YouTube fodder.

The announcement Tuesday reflected a scaling back of those plans. It came on the heels of another round of credit downgrades for New Jersey, with Moody’s Investors Service lowering the state’s rating from last week, following similar actions by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. Those downgrades put New Jersey’s debt in the same troubled category as California and Illinois.

“The downgrade… reflects the weakened financial position resulting from recurring revenue shortfalls and ongoing reliance on non-recurring resources that have deferred structural imbalances into future years,” Moody’s analysts wrote. “Additionally, high and rapidly-growing fixed costs have pressured the budget and limited the state’s flexibility to make structural changes that would improve long-term budget balance. As a result, the state’s liquidity position has weakened to levels that provide minimal cushion against budget surprises.”

Democrats seized on the change to cast Christie’s fiscal stewardship into doubt.

“One would expect someone who has dug such a deep hole for himself to stop digging,” John Currie, who chairs the state’s Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Chris Christie has not learned that lesson.”

The fiscal drama comes as Christie is fighting to restore his national image following the allegedly politically motivated closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge by aides. The governor is also heavily traveling the country on behalf of other Republican governors and to boost his own political ambitions, most recently delivering a speech outlining some of his foreign policy principles on Sunday night. Christie used the 2011 agreement to burnish his credentials as a deal-maker capable of working across party lines, but a similar outcome on another agreement is far from guaranteed this time around. Meanwhile, Christie will have a hard time campaigning on a pension deal he was forced to scale back.

TIME 2016 Election

Americans Don’t Want D.C. Experience in 2016 Candidate, Poll Says

Candidates for the presidency can now count experience in the capital as a liability, a reversal from 2007

More Americans view extensive Washington experience as a negative trait in a presidential candidate than a positive one, according to a new poll, a marked turnaround from years past.

The Pew survey out Monday found that 30% of Americans would be less likely to support a candidate with extensive experience in the capital, compared to just 19% who said they’d be more likely to support such a candidate. The results mark a reversal from when Pew asked the same question in 2007, when just 15% said they’d be less likely to support a Washington insider and 35% said they’d be more likely to. In both years, a roughly equal amount said it wouldn’t make a difference.

The poll results could have particular significance for the 2016 GOP presidential primaries, since Republicans (and independents) are particularly unimpressed by Washington experience, with 36% saying they’re less likely to support a D.C. insider and just 15% more likely.

Partisan gridlock in Washington and continued brinksmanship like last year’s government shutdown are partly to blame for the decline in popularity of D.C. pols. A similar measure going back decades reveals a sharp decline, beginning in the Obama era, in how many people view Washington experience positively. In 1987, 66% told Pew that service in Congress was better preparation for the presidency than being governor of a state. That number fell to 55% by 2007, then plummeted to 44% in 2014. An equal number this year say being a governor is better preparation. The results bode well for potential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

TIME 2016 Election

Chris Christie: U.S. Has Lost Its Moral Leadership Under Obama

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told a group of philanthropists that the President has allowed dysfunction in Washington to harm American interests overseas, stating he never followed through with his threat of punishing Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Sunday that the U.S. is no longer a model for the world, lamenting a lack of American moral leadership on the global stage in a speech before a group of Jewish philanthropists.

Delivering an indictment of President Barack Obama’s foreign and domestic policy in a speech in New York City, the Republican 2016 hopeful said dysfunction in the nation’s capitol is harming American interests overseas. “There was a time in this world that America’s government was something to emulate,” he said. “No one can realistically believe today, when we have Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., that not only don’t govern but barely speak to each other, that we’re any longer a model for the world.”

Speaking at the Champions of Jewish Values Gala in New York at an event hosted by This World: The Values Network, an organization headed by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Christie said America’s credibility is being undermined by the Administration sending inconsistent signals about “who our friends are … and who our enemies are.” He added the U.S. must “be the strongest moral power for what is good and what is right in the world.”

Christie criticized Obama for failing to follow through on his threat to punish Syria for using chemical weapons on its citizens, acknowledging there may be a debate about drawing a “red line.” “Here’s something that should not be up for debate, that once you draw that red line, you enforce it, because if you don’t, America’s credibility will be at stake and will be at risk all over the world,” he said.

Hinting at his own political ambitions, Christie said the nation’s political leaders should “stop singing a happy tune” about the state of the country, both at home and overseas.

“Foreign policy and America’s role in the world is something that is often not popular to discuss in political campaigns,” he said. “But I suspect that every person who has had the opportunity to lead this country recognizes fairly early on that it is that role that will define the character and the strength of their leadership.”

“We need to stand once again loudly for these values,” he continued, making the case for an interventionist foreign policy even as the isolationist wing of the GOP has grown more vocal. “And sometimes that’s going to mean standing in some very messy difficult places, and standing strong and hard for those things that we believe in.”

“It is now our turn,” Christie said. “The torch is firmly in our hand.”

Also present at the event were Texas Governor Rick Perry and Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who sat at the table with Christie. Christie was forced to apologize to Adelson in March after using the phrase “occupied territories” in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition. Boteach defended his decision to honor Christie at the start of the program. Christie spoke vaguely about “friends at risk around the world” but did not mention Israel in his 18-minute address.

TIME

Christie to Biden: Welcome to Instagram, Here’s a Throwback Thursday

Biden joined Instagram on Wednesday with a bang, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie now appears to be showing him the ropes.

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to Instagram Thursday a day after Joe Biden made waves with his first selfie that also starred President Barack Obama.

“#tbts always trump #selfies,” Christie wrote in an Instragram post, a “Throwback Thursday” picture of himself and Biden from back in the day. The photo’s date was unclear, though the duo appear to be standing at their shared alma mater, the University of Delaware.

Biden and Christie are considered possible contenders in the race for president in 2016, but for today, at least, it’s all #smiles.

TIME 2016 Election

Republican Presidential Hopefuls See Possible Upside in 2014 Failure

NJ Gov Christie Holds News Conference At Statehouse
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is among a host of Republicans whose 2016 hopes could get a boost if their party falls short of taking back the Senate this year Jessica Kourkounis—Getty Images

While most Republicans see 2014 as a chance to win the Senate, some of the party's White House contenders-to-be are worried that a fully Republican-dominated Congress would dim their chances of winning the keys to the Oval Office in 2016

Republicans are increasingly looking at 2014 as a golden opportunity for the party to retake the Senate. Donors are pouring tens of millions of dollars into races across the country, the Republican National Committee is doubling down on investments in campaign technology, and outside groups are investing heavily in an all-out bid to regain the majority for the first time since 2007.

But there’s a dirty little secret: not every Republican is rooting for the party to succeed.

Behind closed doors and in private conversations with reporters and donors, Republicans eyeing the White House in 2016 are privately signaling they wouldn’t mind seeing the party fall short in this year’s midterm elections. For all the benefits of a strong showing in 2014 after resounding defeat in 2012, senior political advisers to some of the top Republican presidential aspirants believe winning the Senate might be the worst thing that could happen.

The opinion is most strongly held by Republican governors, who are hoping to rise above the Washington political fray. Already the central theme adopted by governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin is their ability to cut through partisan gridlock to lead their states. A dysfunctional Washington hamstrung by ideological division accentuates their core argument.

“They’re going to run against Washington,” says Ray Scheppach, the former longtime executive director of the National Governors Association. “Their argument is, ‘Nothing happens in Washington, people don’t do anything there. But I’ve created jobs, I’ve balanced budgets for X number of years, I’ve worked across the aisle bringing people together.’ They’re better off painting that picture with a divided Congress.”

But even for Senators like Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, winning the majority brings the expectation of performance in a climate where President Barack Obama’s veto pen will certainly get a workout, not to mention the fact that they lack the seniority to guide legislation through committees.

For candidates from either category, a GOP-controlled Senate and House would mean having to answer for their party’s legislative agenda in both a primary and a general election. Whether it be new fiscal deals struck with Obama or continued votes to repeal Obamacare, aides to potential candidates fear that congressional action may put a damper on their boss’s future campaigns by forcing them to either embrace or break with specific legislative proposals as opposed to general policy ideals.

“It’s a lot easier to explain your principles to the American people than it is to explain your position on a piece of legislation that will always have some flaws,” said one 2016 hopeful’s top political aide. “And let’s not forget that Congress’s approval rating is at 9%. I think all of those looking at 2016 would rather the two parties share the blame than Republicans alone.”

The White House aspirants are careful to avoid sharing their views publicly, wary of insulting a party energized by a tantalizingly close chance at the majority thanks to the still sluggish economy and the initially botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act. But by and large, their priorities are apparent in how and for whom they fundraise. Republican governors uniformly talk up their colleagues but avoid mention of the Senate. Senators eyeing the White House have focused on building their own war chests and political organizations.

Several Republican governors are up for re-election this year, and Christie and Jindal are the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the Republican Governors Association. But Christie drew the ire of many Republicans last year when he called a special election to fill the seat of Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died in office, just two weeks before his own re-election. The move kept popular Democrat and now Senator Cory Booker off the ballot when Christie was seeking to run up the score at the polls, but it also made it virtually impossible for his own party to contest the seat. Even more Republicans blame Cruz’s shutdown strategy with making their case more difficult this fall, even as it boosted his position among the Tea Party grassroots.

The GOP establishment, though, is worried about anyone in the party taking their eye off the ball. The 2016 map is as unfavorable to the GOP as it is favorable in 2014, with a presidential-year turnout raising the likelihood that even if Republicans manage to take the Senate this year, they will lose it two years later.

Former Mitt Romney adviser Kevin Madden said it would be misguided for potential candidates to ignore the opportunity in 2014 in order to boost their own fortunes, but he acknowledged there may well be some awkwardness.

“After the midterms, we could very well be at a point where the candidate that forces a moment of reckoning within our party eventually becomes its 2016 nominee,” Madden tells TIME. “That may require a showdown between the nominee and their party in the Senate, but it could eventually help both the party and the country.”

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