Wow: Emails obtained by the The Record and the Wall Street Journal show that a top aide to NJ Governor Chris Christie wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," to Christie's patronage hire in the Port Authority three weeks before lanes were closed in the Fort Lee approach to the George Washington Bridge, causing commuters hours of delays for days. Happy New Year, Chris Christie's 2016 ambitions—it's gonna be rough! Update: Christie insists he was "misled" by his aides—what a team!
The email was written by Bridget Anne Kelly, who is listed fourth on Christie's senior staff page as "Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs." The Wall Street Journal reports, "The email exchange is the clearest sign that a series of lane closures on the bridge in September were carried out at the behest of high-ranking members of Mr. Christie's administration. It is in contrast with the original explanation for the closures — that they were part of a mishandled traffic study by [David] Wildstein, a career political operative and friend of Mr. Christie's for years." The George Washington Bridge carries 102 million vehicles a year, making it the world's busiest bridge.
The Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, had contended that the bridge gridlock was a payback against him because he refused to endorse Christie for re-election. Christie's childhood buddy Wildstein, whom Christie appointed to the Port Authority, called for the shutdown of the critical lanes, claiming there was a traffic study. The traffic gridlock lasted from Monday, September 9 (the first day of school) until Thursday, September 12, when Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, appointed by NY Governor Cuomo, called it off. Foye, during a NJ Senate hearing, pointed out the safety issues the closures caused (like emergency responders not being able to travel) and called the mess "frankly a low point in Port Authority history."
Wildstein and his boss, the highest ranking NJ appointee at the Port Authority, Executive Director Bill Baroni, both resigned. Christie continued to insist he had no idea this was happening, but these exchanges, as printed in the Record, suggest that he likely knew his "Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs" and his pals were messing with Fort Lee:
On Sept. 9, the first morning of the lane closures, Kelly asked in an e-mail if Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s numerous calls to Port Authority officials had been returned.
“Radio silence,” Wildstein replied. “His name comes right after mayor Fulop,” an apparent reference to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who also said this week that the Christie administration had retaliated against him last year because he didn’t endorse the governor for re-election.
...In one exchange of text messages on the second day of the lane closures, Wildstein alludes to messages the Fort Lee mayor had left complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through the traffic.
“Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” the recipient of the text message responded to Wildstein. The person’s identity is not clear because the documents are partially redacted for unknown reasons.
“No,” Wildstein wrote in response.
“I feel badly about the kids,” the person replied to Wildstein. “I guess.”
“They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote, making a reference to Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, who lost to Christie in a landslide in November.
Of course, the laughter stopped a few days later when Wildstein emails Baroni to tell him that WSJ reporter Ted Mann just called him. Baroni replied, "Jesus." Christie's campaign manager Bill Stepien (now head of the NJ GOP) later emailed Wildstein to tell him that Fort Lee mayor Sokolich was "an idiot" and Wildstein said, "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian," referring to Sokolich.
You can enjoy the emails here:
Update: Christie cancelled his 11 a.m. public event this morning. The Star-ledger reports, "The event was open to the media but the governor was not expected to hold a question and answer session. Christie's office gave no reason for the cancellation but said the event would be rescheduled. The governor has no other public events scheduled today."
So, while we ponder whether Kelly will take the fall for this and resign, enjoy this email that Wildstein sent her about how the NY side of the Port Authority re-opened the lanes:
Samson is Chairman of the Port Authority's Board of Commissioners; he was appointed by Christie. He hasn't made any statements about his involvement with the imbroglio.