On the third day of the George Washington Bridge toll-lane closure, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was photographed laughing at an event in lower Manhattan with David Wildstein, an old high school acquaintance he’d appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Five months later, Christie wants the world to know that Wildstein is a rotten guy, so rotten that “he was publicly accused by his high school social-studies teacher of deceptive behavior,” as Christie’s staff wrote to reporters on Feb. 1.
What changed? Wildstein turned on Christie first, releasing a letter from his attorney alleging that Christie had deceived the public and that evidence existed tying the embattled governor to the lane closures. Christie’s team responded aggressively, describing Wildstein as “controversial” and “strange” in the Feb. 1 letter.
Wildstein may not be the only problem for Christie. At least 18 people close to the governor have been subpoenaed in separate legislative and criminal probes, and no one knows what else will come out. (Former aide Bridget Anne Kelly, whom Christie fired over her role in the scandal, has taken the Fifth.) With Wildstein, Christie has made clear he is ready and willing to fight back.
It wasn’t the first time Christie had snubbed his old schoolmate. Responding to the revelations that his senior aides were involved in the lane closures, Christie said he “didn’t travel in the same circles” in high school with Wildstein. “You know, I was the class president and athlete,” Christie said.
But two years earlier, his office raised no objections when the Bergen Record called Wildstein Christie’s “eyes-and-ears” at the Port Authority who plays a “key behind-the-scenes role” for the governor. Now Christie’s office contends that portrayal was inaccurate. “He was not someone who the governor went to,” a senior Christie aide says. The question now: How many other erstwhile allies will become enemies as the investigation unfolds?
This appears in the February 17, 2014 issue of TIME.