Is Bridgegate the reason Gov. Christie is out as Trump transition chief?

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NEW JERSEY -- He was one of the first and most loyal big-name supporters of Donald Trump, but now Gov. Chris Christie is out as the leader of the president-elect's transition team.

His connection to the Bridgegate scandal may have been the key factor in the New Jersey governor's demotion.

Christie prominently joined the Trump campaign just after the Super Tuesday primaries last March, when Trump took the lion's share of the state primary elections and Christie was soundly defeated in his bid for the presidency.

The move was widely seen as a strategic one that might result in Gov. Christie being elevated to a prominent cabinet position or even vice president, if Trump were to win. It recently became known that Christie's association with Bridgegate prevented him from being offered the V-P position.

Now, it's unclear what his fate in the Trump Administration will be.

Christie is being replaced at the helm of the transition team by Mike Pence, the man Trump ended up selecting as his running mate, of course.

Instead, Gov. Christie will now serve as the transition's vice chairman. He’s joined on an executive committee by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, retired neurosurgeon and former presidential candidate Ben Carson, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.

The changes come exactly a week to the day since two of Christie's very close aides -- deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni -- were found guilty of intentionally backing up traffic at the George Washington Bridge for days in September 2013.

A jury agreed with prosecutors that it was done as retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, where the western end of the bridge is located. The mayor, Mark Sokolich, did not endorse Christie for re-election that year.

Christie's removal from the top spot is certainly a demotion, but his being named to a significant position within the team is a sign that President-elect Trump is still loyal to him.

Still, says Thomas Halper, Baruch College political science professor and author of the book Power, Politics and American Democracy, the shift sends a strongly negative signal.

"This is just a way for Christie to save face," said Halper, the former longtime chairman of the Baruch College political science department.

A statement from the Trump organization says more than a dozen other people will also advise Trump on transition matters. They include some of Trump’s children, Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus and former Breitbart news executive Steve Bannon.

The presence of Washington heavy-hitters like Priebus, Sen. Sessions and others, Halper told PIX11 News, is a reminder that "everyone who campaigns as an outsider can't" govern as one. Halper said that time and time again, so-called outsider candidates have to bring in people "who aren't on the outside in Washington, which is to say, insiders."

Meanwhile, Christie's sights can't be solely on Washington. He faces a criminal hearing in New Jersey related to the Bridgegate case at the end of this month.

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