New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been hit with a criminal summons for his alleged role in the 2013 closure of George Washington Bridge.
The case will move to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether an indictment will follow.
The news comes as two former aides of the governor are on trial for allegedly closing part of the bridge after a mayor refused to endorse the governor.
The Republican governor has repeatedly denied knowing about the lane closures.
Bridget Kelly, Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive, are facing conspiracy and fraud charges for allegedly closing part of the George Washington Bridge, a major bridge connecting New Jersey to New York City.
Federal prosecutors say the move was political retribution to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing the governor in his re-election bid.
Revelations about “Bridgegate” have dogged Chris Christie, who endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a surprising move after dropping out of the primary race earlier this year.
Chris Christie has become a prominent supporter of his former rival, Donald Trump, and manages the New York businessman’s transition team should he win the White House.
David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who pleaded guilty last year, testified late last month that Chris Christie was told about the bridge closure at a 9/11 memorial service two days after the lanes were blocked and laughed about the revenge plot.
Activist Bill Brennan filed the official misconduct complaint against Chris Christie in September after David Wildstein’s testimony.
The prosecutor’s office will decide whether there is enough evidence to indict Chris Christie for official misconduct, which could lead to a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.
Chris Christie appointed the prosecutor who will review the case.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office had “no comment at this time”, spokeswoman Maureen Parenta said in an email to Reuters.
Chris Christie’s spokesman Brian Murray said the ruling would be appealed and reiterated the governor had no knowledge of the plot.
“This is a dishonorable complaint filed by a known serial complainant and political activist with a history of abusing the judicial system,” he said.
“This matter has already been thoroughly investigated by three separate independent investigations.”
A lawyer for Chris Christie’s former ally David Wildstein said the New Jersey governor knew about the closures of local lanes leading to George Washington Bridge to New York City while they were happening.
David Wildstein said he had evidence to show Chris Christie knew about the lane closures, which caused a huge traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge.
Documents suggest the traffic jam was orchestrated by Chris Christie’s aides.
Chris Christie on Friday reiterated he had “no prior knowledge” of the closures.
The scandal has damaged Chris Christie’s standing as a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
In a letter to the general counsel of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the George Washington Bridge and other bridges and tunnels between the two states, David Wildstein’s lawyer wrote: “Evidence exists… tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed.”
Alan Zegas’ letter described the lane closure as occurring under “the Christie administration’s order”, and said David Wildstein suggested Chris Christie had not spoken truthfully in a January news conference.
David Wildstein said he had evidence to show Chris Christie knew about the lane closures, which caused a huge traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge
Chris Christie said then that he had been “blindsided” by the revelations his aides were involved in the traffic jam.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution,” the governor said.
The four-day September traffic jam in the streets of Fort Lee, New Jersey, which sits at the foot of the bridge, is believed to have been orchestrated by Chris Christie’s aides to punish its Democratic mayor for his refusal to endorse the governor in his 2013 re-election campaign.
The traffic jam was caused when workers closed off two local lanes from Fort Lee onto the bridge, ostensibly to conduct a traffic study.
State legislators and federal prosecutors have launched inquiries into the matter, and Chris Christie has pledged to co-operate.
David Wildstein, a high school friend of Chris Christie, was a senior political appointee on the Port Authority until he resigned in December as the probe into the traffic jam began gathering steam.
In January, Chris Christie sacked Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Ann Kelly wrote on August 13 to David Wildstein, according to a copy of the email obtained by the news media in January.
“Got it,” David Wildstein replied.
David Wildstein has refused to testify in legislative inquiries into the matter, citing his constitutional protection against self-incrimination.
In a statement released by his office to the news media on Friday, Chris Christie said David Wildstein’s lawyer “confirms what the governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened”.
According to the statement, Chris Christie believed only that a traffic study was under way until he read “otherwise” on the morning of January 8, when his aides’ involvement was revealed in the news media.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has decided to fire his top aide Bridget Anne Kelly, who allegedly orchestrated traffic mayhem to pursue a petty political vendetta.
Chris Christie, who is seen as a potential Republican White House candidate, apologized for the scandal, which he said “embarrassed and humiliated” him.
The gridlock was allegedly engineered to punish a Democratic mayor who did not endorse the governor’s re-election.
Chris Christie denied all knowledge of the scandal and said he was misled.
“I’m embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Chris Christie said on Thursday morning at the statehouse in the city Trenton.
The governor said repeatedly that he had nothing to do with the “callous and indifferent” lane closures.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution,” he said,
“And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
Chris Christie spoke as the US Attorney’s office for New Jersey opened an inquiry into the lane closures.
Chris Christie fired top aide who allegedly orchestrated traffic mayhem to pursue a petty political vendetta
Emails and texts made public on Wednesday appear to link Bridget Anne Kelly to the closure of traffic lanes feeding to the George Washington Bridge, one of the world’s busiest, in September.
The move caused traffic chaos in the New Jersey borough of Fort Lee, whose mayor declined to back Chris Christie in last autumn’s gubernatorial election.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly wrote on August 13 to David Wildstein, a New Jersey political appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the span.
“Got it,” David Wildstein, a childhood friend of Chris Christie, replied.
On September 9, two of three traffic lanes to the bridge – a major crossing to New York City carrying some 300,000 vehicles on a typical day – were shut for several days.
The communications do not suggest that Chris Christie himself directly had anything to do with the lane closures, but they seem to contradict his previous assertions that none of his staff was involved.
Chris Christie and Port Authority officials initially said the decision to close the lanes was part of a traffic study.
On Wednesday evening, Mayor Mark Sokolich said the alleged skulduggery was “appalling”, adding that the ensuing gridlock had put people in danger by holding up emergency vehicles.
“It’s the example of the pettiest and most venomous side of politics,” Mark Sokolich told the Bergen Record newspaper.
Chris Christie postponed a morning event after the emails were released on Wednesday, later issuing a public statement saying he would not tolerate such behavior by his staff.
David Wildstein, who has since resigned, is due to testify under oath on Thursday before a state legislature committee investigating the matter.
Chris Christie has enjoyed high popularity in his home state, particularly after his response to Superstorm Sandy. But commentators are already suggesting the bridge scandal could tarnish his White House prospects.
“Chris in a jam” ran the headline in the New York Post.
Another tabloid, the New York Daily News, took a double swipe at Chris Christie’s weight and rumored political ambitions, writing: “Fat chance now, Chris.”
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