What the Hell Is This Chris Christie Bridge Scandal? An ExplainerS

Chris Christie is all over your TV and newspaper and internet right now, which is just really unpleasant. What did the governor of New Jersey do and why does it matter?

So... Chris Christie closed a bridge?

Well, maybe. What we know for sure is that a high-level official in his administration worked along with members of Port Authority to close two of the three lanes on the George Washington Bridge connecting to Fort Lee, a Jersey suburb just across the Hudson, in early September.

Who exactly are we talking here?

The order to close the lanes came from Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Christie's deputy chief of staff until the governor fired her on Thursday. Over at Port Authority, two Christie appointees did the dirty work: director of interstate capital projects David Wildstein and deputy executive director Bill Baroni. Both resigned from their positions in December.

Who cares if Christie's people closed a highway?

Well, the GWB, which connects Jersey and Manhattan, is the most trafficked motor vehicle bridge in the world. Closing two of its three lanes essentially ground traffic to a complete halt. The bridge traffic backed up all the way into Fort Lee, making it impossible for some parents to even get their kids to school. Commuters into New York City had to leave their houses four hours earlier than normal. An owner of a café in Fort Lee told CNN, "The bridge is a lifeline here. You take away the bridge, you take away our livelihood." Another called it "worse than a disaster."

Still, this sounds... kinda minor?

Have you ever sat in a car that barely moves for four hours? People in New York complain endlessly if their commutes are delayed even 45 minutes. But much worse, a 91-year-old Fort Lee woman died while paramedics were fighting traffic caused by the lane closures.

Did they think no one would care?

So, that's the funny thing. The lane closings immediately became the most important unsolved incident in New Jersey: a September 17 article in the Wall Street Journal was headlined "Bridge Jam's Cause a Mystery." It was only a matter of time before everything was unraveled.

They must have had a cover up.

You would think! In mid-August, Christie's aide Kelly emailed Port Authority's Wildstein saying "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." But that appears to be the extent of the planning. After the outrage, Port Authority initially claimed they were conducting a "traffic study" (good plan!), but three Port Authority officials testified in December that there never was a traffic study.

Wait a second: testified?

Yep. Immediately, Democrats in the state assumed this was political retaliation for... something. Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, called the lane closures "punitive". His theory was that Christie was punishing him for refusing to endorse the governor in his 2013 re-election campaign against Democrat Barbara Buono. On October 2, Democrat New Jersey assemblyman John Wisniewski announced his committee would be launching an investigation into who exactly ordered the lanes be closed.

So all of this happened because a Democratic mayor refused to endorse a Republican governor?

Maybe. But on Thursday Rachel Maddow presented an alternate theory that the date of Kelly's email (Aug. 13) suggests that the target of closures was not Sokolich, but State Senator Loretta Weinberg, who represents Fort Lee and also is the state's senate majority leader. Christie and the state Democrats had been waging war over state Supreme Court nominees.

Okay, so when did shit really hit the fan?

On Thursday, Christie released emails that showed Kelly ordered Port Authority to muck up Fort Lee's traffic. Further documents show his Port Authority appointees gloating privately over the mess. He then called a press conference to announce Kelly's firing.

Oh, right. That press conference.

Yes, it was totally absurd.

And he didn't cop to knowing about this scheme?

Nope. So, either Christie really didn't know about Kelly's order to close the lanes or he is confident that the exact extent of his knowledge will never leak out. Port Authority's Wildstein did his part this week by pleading the fifth during the entirety of a state senate hearing.

Will anyone face criminal prosecution? Could Christie?

The U.S. attorney is expected to look into the matter and that could open up many other cans of worms. Legal experts don't seem convinced that any serious charges will be brought down because of the case, but civil prosecution — from commuters, business owners, etc. — is another matter.

So, that's it?

As it stands, this will eventually blow over. But if it turns out that Christie conducted an hour plus-long press conference only to lie about what he did, it could derail a rising career over something that should have been incredibly minor.

Oh god, we're entering Anthony Weiner territory...

Yep. Anthony Weiner's political career may be dead, but we must always remember the lessons his dick taught us.