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Christie's roadblocks to White House job: Trump's son-in-law, Bridgegate

Gov. Christie risked his political reputation as a moderate Republican with good standing in the establishment wing of the party by endorsing the insurgent campaign of Donald Trump.

Gov. Christie risked his political reputation as a moderate Republican with good standing in the establishment wing of the party by endorsing the insurgent campaign of Donald Trump.

His long-shot bet appeared to pay off last week with Trump's stunning election victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Since then, however, he has been removed from his plum post as chairman of Trump's White House transition team, and Christie allies have either been demoted or ousted.

Trump had asked Christie to be his running mate months earlier, but that, too, was scuttled.

"I've spoken to the president-elect often in the last six days," Christie said Tuesday in a South Jersey radio interview. "If there's a way that I could be helpful, that's meaningful, then [wife] Mary Pat and I will consider it."

Yet Christie's prospects for a top job in Washington seem to be dimming.

Two chief reasons, according to interviews and multiple reports: the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal and the opposition of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and trusted adviser, whose father was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Christie more than a decade ago.

Charles Kushner, a real estate developer and a top donor to Gov. Jim McGreevey and other Democrats, pleaded guilty in 2004 to tax fraud, making false statements to federal authorities about campaign contributions, and witness retaliation.

Charles Kushner admitted hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, arranging for their encounter to be videotaped, and then mailing the tape to his estranged sister in retaliation for her cooperation in a federal investigation into his finances.

He was sentenced to two years in federal prison in Alabama, where his son would visit while in graduate school.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. But a person who knows the family said Charles and Jared Kushner came to view the prosecution as part of an effort by Christie to use the U.S. Attorney's Office for political gain.

The Kushners believe Christie, as governor, continued to misuse his office, as exemplified by the bridge scandal, this person said.

This view is shared by many New Jersey Democrats. In a separate case a month before Kushner was charged, a defense attorney even suggested to a jury that the U.S. Attorney's Office was prosecuting his client to advance Christie's political career.

Around the time Charles Kushner was released from prison in 2006, an anonymous blog called NewJerseyJustice defended Kushner and attacked Christie relentlessly. Its tagline: "Covering the Garden State legal system and its ambitious US Attorney Chris Christie."

Trump has great affection for Christie, but Jared Kushner and his wife, Trump's daughter Ivanka, have been "banging pots and pans" to block Christie's ascent in Trump's circle, according to a second source familiar with the matter.

On Friday, Christie was replaced as chairman of the transition team by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. The New Jersey governor is now a vice chairman.

The aides ousted or sidelined are Richard Bagger, Christie's former chief of staff, and Bill Palatucci, a longtime adviser to the governor. Multiple national news organizations reported Tuesday that other staff members had been dismissed from the transition team as part of a "purge" of Christie associates.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump's transition team, told reporters Wednesday that that "couldn't be further from the truth."

The New York Post first reported, and the Inquirer confirmed, that Trump offered Christie the vice presidential nominee slot in July, which Christie denies. But once then-campaign Chief Paul Manafort learned of Trump's offer, he and others, including Kushner, objected to the move.

Trump ultimately settled on Pence, the governor of Indiana.

Neither Palatucci nor a spokesman for Jared Kushner responded to requests for comment.

Although Trump is said to prize loyalty - which would seem to benefit Christie, given that the governor was one of the first significant players to endorse the New York businessman - the conviction of two former Christie aides this month in the bridge case damaged the governor politically. He has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Although the trial has ended, the bridge story has not gone away. The former aides have said they will appeal the jury's verdict. The government's star witness in the case, former Port Authority official David Wildstein, testified that he and another agency executive bragged to Christie about "tremendous" traffic problems near the bridge while the lane closures were underway.

A civil case against Christie related to the political payback scheme also is pending in Bergen County.

Beyond the bridge case, Christie continues to face negative headlines in the Garden State. Three-quarters of registered voters polled disapprove of his job performance, and the state's bond rating was downgraded Monday for a record 10th time during the governor's tenure.

Republicans hold a slim majority in the U.S. Senate, but a confirmation hearing on a Christie appointment could get messy and reflect poorly on Trump.

Jared Kushner, 35, employed Wildstein for three years. As publisher of Observer Media, Kushner in 2007 bought, the website Wildstein founded and ran under a pseudonym. Kushner is also chief executive of the New York real estate company that bears his family name.

Wildstein was an executive vice president for Observer Media from 2007 to 2010, even as he hid his identity.

With Christie's approval, Wildstein joined the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010 - where Charles Kushner had served as a commissioner under McGreevey nearly a decade earlier.

As the lane closures at the Port Authority-controlled bridge came under greater scrutiny in December 2013, Wildstein was forced to resign.

A day later, he received an email from Kushner, according to testimony in the bridge case.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton refused to admit the email into evidence, but a transcript of a private conversation among the judge, prosecutors, and defense attorneys sheds light on its contents.

"The truth is, Judge, this is what [Wildstein] thrives for," defense attorney Michael Baldassare said on Sept. 29. "People like [Kushner] calling him a badass."



Staff writer Maddie Hanna contributed to this article.