The findings of the federal probe into the rogue closure of George Washington Bridge lanes in 2013 appear to have put New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the clear, but whether he has emerged unscathed enough to make a 2016 presidential bid remains uncertain.
Since news of the scandal broke, Christie has maintained that he had no knowledge about plans to close the lanes -- a revenge plot against the Fort Lee, N.J., mayor who did not endorse his successful re-election bid.
"There has not been one fact … that has come out in the course of the last 15 months that has contradicted anything I have said after an internal investigation, after a highly partisan Democratic legislative investigation or after a U.S. attorney investigation," Christie, a Republican, told Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier” on Friday.
David Wildstein, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official, pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy against civil rights.
Christie was not charged. But Bill Baroni, a former port authority deputy executive director, and Bridget Anne Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff, were charged with nine counts, including conspiracy to commit fraud by “knowingly converting and intentionally misapplying property of an organization receiving federal benefits.”
They closed the lanes into New York without notice, causing a major traffic jam and delays.
Christie,who became governor in Democratic-leaning New Jersey in 2010, was once considered one of the GOP’s best hopes to win the White House after the party lost in 2008 and 2012 to President Obama.
However, he began to lose political capital after working alongside Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, just days before voters reelected him over GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
And the bridge scandal, along with a struggling state economy and critics’ almost-constant drumbeat about Christie's combative nature, appear to have further diminished his chances of winning next year.
The 52-year-old Christie has given no indication on when he might announce a decision.
“We’re still going through the really personal part of this decision,” Christie recently told NBC.
But he and his family have shown clear signs of moving toward a potential bid, as they awaited the results of the federal probe.
Christie has been to Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus, at least five times already this year. And his leadership political action committee has staff in the state.
In addition, Christie has been to the more independent, early-voting state of New Hampshire at least twice this year. And his wife, Mary Pat Christie, recently resigned from her job at a Wall Street firm, an indication she also is preparing for her husband’s 2016 bid.
Gary Kirke, a top Iowa GOP donor, recently told New Jersey Advance Media that Christie’s real problem in the conservative state is the strong field of 2016 GOP hopefuls.
Kirke said that so-called “BridgeGate” has not been a factor “for the past six months, nor have the Sandy situation and Christie’s demeanor.
"I don't know of anybody who's backing him anymore,” Kirke said. “He's just not catching fire."
Christie is in seventh place among GOP hopefuls, according to a recent poll by nonpartisan RealClearPolitics.com.
He trails former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Texas, Ted Cruz of Texas and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, according to the website.
Christie is not alone in waiting to commit, considering Walker and Bush have yet to announce, with Huckabee set to make an announcement early next week.
Political observers say Christie’s apparent strategy will be to focus on the less-conservative New Hampshire, not Iowa, considering his late start and limited fundraising ability.
He skipped last weekend’s event at the Grace Point Church in Waukee, Iowa, which was attended by such hopefuls as Cruz, Huckabee, Paul, Rubio, Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina.
"It's a clear indication that Christie has a New Hampshire-first strategy," Doug Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University also told New Jersey Advance Media.
"It's a sign of weakness in his campaign that he can't compete in Iowa, but good politicians tack with the wind. Coming in fifth in Iowa would have been the death knell of his campaign. He has an opportunity to win in New Hampshire and become a one of the top contenders for Super Tuesday."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.