Much of the intense interest in New Jersey's most famous traffic jam - no minor distinction in a state that specializes in gridlock - revolves around what Gov. Christie knew, when he knew it, and whether it might end his long-dreamt-of leadership of the free world before it begins. These are legitimate questions, but they threaten to distract from the enormity of the event itself: a raw abuse of government power in the service of the pettiest politics.

Last week's guilty plea and indictments of three former Christie administration officials affirmed in stark detail much of what had been reported and suspected about the 2013 redirection of George Washington Bridge traffic, which inflicted five days of paralyzing gridlock on Fort Lee, the borough across the bridge from Manhattan. According to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, officials in the governor's office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge, concocted a plot to create an epic bottleneck, ignored repeated pleas to desist in the name of public safety, and invented a cover story involving a "traffic study" - when in fact the only real traffic study in the area had to be repeated because it was ruined by the fake one.

Federal investigators also unearthed at least one new and charming fact: The conspirators allegedly waited for Fort Lee's first day of school, when traffic would be particularly heavy, to set the plot in motion.

Worse, this elaborate sabotage was devised to punish a microscopic political transgression: the failure of the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, a town of 35,000, to endorse a Republican governor whose landslide reelection was assured.

Nor were the admitted and alleged saboteurs a collection of obscure and misguided civil servants. Former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the traffic jam Friday, was deemed so indispensable to the government that his job was created for him. Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, who pleaded not guilty to federal charges Monday, held the second-highest executive ranks in the Port Authority and the governor's office, respectively.

Kelly argued last week, somewhat persuasively, that the notion that no one else in the governor's office knew about the attack on Fort Lee is "ludicrous." Wildstein, who was an anonymous political blogger before Christie gave him the power to impede interstate travel, insists that he told the governor what was happening in real time. Christie maintains that the indictments prove he was in the dark.

In any case, the governor seems remarkably at ease with the evidence that critical infrastructure was hijacked by vindictive political hacks with no regard for the public. In December, Christie joined his Democratic New York counterpart, Andrew Cuomo, in killing legislation to reform the Port Authority.