January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
3 months ago

What's in the Christie scandal documents

Updated 10:04 p.m. ET, 1/10/2014

(CNN) – A New Jersey State Assembly committee on Friday released a large batch of more than 2,000 pages of documents that are part of its investigation of top appointees to Gov. Chris Christie who closed down access lanes in September to the country's busiest bridge as an alleged act of political retribution.

CNN dug through the documents that shed more light on the scandal. Here's what we found:

Political fallout

E-mail messages between top officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey reveal that another senior aide to Christie was aware of concerns that the bridge closure was not part of an ongoing traffic study.

Patrick Foye, the transportation agency's executive director, wrote a scathing e-mail that expressed concerns lane closures on the George Washington Bridge – which snarled traffic in Fort Lee – did not follow protocol or and created "dangers to the public interest."

Regina Egea, Christie's director of the authorities unit and a member of his senior staff, was forward the e-mail three hours after it was sent on September 9.

Bill Baroni, the Christie-appointed Port Authority deputy director, forwarded the e-mail to Egea.

Plenty in his own party happy to see Christie get comeuppance

Messages exchanged between two former officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey claimed that Christie's top communications adviser had been monitoring the media reaction weeks after the controversial decision to close several traffic lanes leading from New Jersey into New York in September.

"Comella didn't think much of the story. Said no one was paying attention," Baroni wrote to David Wildstein.

Wildstein was then the director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority on October 2.

Baroni immediately followed up that message with "Oh lol."

Wildstein responded, "Bridget same."

Christie, on Thursday, fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly for her apparent involvement in lane closures.

Other e-mails released earlier this week suggested the gridlock was orchestrated by top Christie appointees and was politically motivated.

Maria Comella is a Christie deputy chief of staff and well known in national political circles.

Baroni and Wildstein have since resigned their posts.

The messages were released along with more than 2,000 documents and are part of the investigation by the New Jersey State Assembly into why top Christie advisers orchestrated the lane closures.

Who's who in Christie bridge scandal

In a terse email, the executive director of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority expressed anger for not being told about the lane closures in New Jersey that lead into the George Washington Bridge and used his authority to immediately override the decision four days after the traffic patterns were altered.

He also expressed concern they may have resulted in critically slow emergency response time and may have violated the law.

"Reversing over 25 years of PA (Port Authority) GWB (George Washington Bridge) operations, the three lanes in Fort Lee eastbound to the GWB were reduced to one lane on Monday of this week without notifying Fort Lee, the communication public we serve," wrote Patrick Foye, the executive director, on September 13. "I am appalled by the lack of process, failure to inform our customers and Fort Lee and most of all by the dangers created to the public interest."

In his e-mail, which was sent to a number of high ranking officials on the Port Authority, Foye said, "I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or hospice-bound patient delayed."

He also wrote that he believes the "hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both States."

"I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violated everything this agency stands for," he wrote.

The email – part of the investigation into why top advisers to Christie orchestrated the lane closures on the country's busiest bridge in an alleged act of political retribution – resulted in many e-mails back and forth between Port Authority officials.

Baroni, who resigned in December over the controversy, replied to the e-mail on stating he was "on way to office to discuss" and that there "can be no public discourse" on the controversy.

In response, Foye tersely wrote, "Bill that's precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse on this."

After the Foye e-mail was leaked to the Wall Street Journal in September, David Samson, the Christie appointed chairman of the authority, wrote to another official on September 17, "I am told the ED (executive director) leaked to the WSH his story about Fort Lee issues-very unfortunate for NY/NJ relations."

Samson, in an e-mail on September 18, wrote, "This is yet another example of a story, we've seen it before, where he distances himself from an issue in the press and rides in on a white house to save the day."

Outrage over traffic jams

According to documents released Friday, drivers began complaining about the traffic near the George Washington bridge immediately after the traffic lanes were reduced.

An e-mail to GW Bridge General Manager, Robert Durando, from an associate, described the types of complaints that came in.

It details one angry resident who wrote that her husband, who had been out of work for more than a year, was 40 minutes late to his new job.

The Port Authority is "playing God with people's jobs," she wrote.

Christie: 'I knew nothing about this'

Durando acknowledged in an e-mail to a colleague that the lane closures on the bridge had become a public safety concern.

"Specifically traffic conditions required Ft Lee officers to remain out on corners, managing traffic instead of attending to public safety issues," Durando wrote in an e-mail on September 9, the first day of the lane closures. Traffic continued to be backed up in Fort Lee, New Jersey, until the lanes were opened on September 13.

In addition, the bridge general manager expressed concerns about the "inability of emergency response vehicles … to traverse the borough while responding to emergencies."

"Fort Lee is not happy," Durando said in another e-mail.

Jam delayed help to collapsed 91-year-old woman

The documents released show, local officials in New Jersey expressed anger and shock that traffic lanes from Fort Lee into New York were shut down in September during an important Jewish holiday.

Scott Rechler, vice chairman of the board of commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, e-mailed other representatives on the transportation authority that he was "disturbed" that traffic was snarled "without regard to this being the Jewish high holiday weekend."

"This is terribly disturbing and incomprehensive to me," he wrote. "How can a decision like this be made without it being discussed and considered at the highest levels?"

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich charged that Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police were telling residents of his community that he was responsible for access lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic for several days in September.

"Many members of the public have indicated to me that the Port Authority Police Officers are advising commuters in response to their complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision that I, as the mayor, recently made," Sokolich wrote in a scathing September 12 letter to Baroni.

"This decision has wreaked havoc upon our community during the morning rush hour," Sokolich wrote. "Unquestionably this decision has negatively impacted public safety here in Fort Lee."

Recap of Christie's news conference

Sokolich ended his letter by saying: "The basis, reason, or genesis of the decision is of no consequence to me; however, its profound and adverse impact on our community is of paramount importance to me."

Christie, who has denied any involvement in the bridge scandal, apologized to Sokolich in a meeting on Thursday following a news conference where the governor said he knew nothing about suggestions top appointees orchestrated the gridlock to punish the mayor politically for not supporting Christie for re-election.

More questions arise

While the lane closings were allegedly political payback, documents released Friday show that a traffic study did in fact occur. Officials have defended the closings of access lanes to the bridge as a legitimate traffic study.

An "early assessment" of traffic patterns on the bridge was conducted. The assessment, which was released on September 12, the fourth day of the lane closures, produced findings that detailed the number of vehicles that used the Ft. Lee section of the bridge, peak traffic hours and what the impact would be if lanes were removed or added.

Traffic snarl delayed EMS, official says

Wildstein forwarded e-mails about the bridge lane closures in September from his official account to his personal G-mail.

On one occasion, Wildstein forwarded the e-mails after a member of his staff told him that a Wall Street Journal reporter was asking questions about the lane closures.

Who is David Wildstein?

He did the same when Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell sent a letter inquiring about the traffic getting onto the bridge.

A cache of newly released documents suggests Baroni sought reaction from the governor’s office on how he handled himself at a New Jersey Assembly committee hearing over the notorious traffic tie-ups in and around the George Washington Bridge in September.

After testifying in November before the panel investigating the matter, Baroni sent a message to David Wildstein asking if there was any “Trenton feedback.”

Wildstein responded “Good,” an answer that prompted Baroni to seek a more in-depth response.

After several exchanges between the two men, Wildstein wrote “Charlie said you did GREAT.”

In Christie’s inner-circle, the only Charlie is Charles McKenna, who serves as the governor’s chief counsel.

During a New Jersey Assembly committee hearing Thursday, Wildstein refused to answer any questions including communications about the traffic lane closures, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Democrats on the committee tell CNN they see no other logical explanation as to whom Wildstein was referring to, given the people involved in the conversation following Baroni’s testimony.

A high-ranking New Jersey lawmaker issued a statement amid the mass document release, saying the information in the records raises more questions in the investigation.

New Jersey Assembly Deputy Speaker Wisniewski, a Democrat, specifically questioned a meeting between Gov. Chris Christie and Port Authority Chairman David Samson that occurred one week before top aides to Christie ordered the access lane closures in Fort Lee.

"Included in these documents is a reference to what appears to be a meeting between Port Authority Chairman David Samson and the governor one week before Bridget Kelly issued the order to cause 'traffic problems' in Fort Lee," he said. "By submitting these documents, Mr. Wildstein is telling us they are related to the lane closures in some way. The question that demands answering is how?"

He also questioned how much top Christie aides knew about the lane closures.

Christie faces the music: The highlights

"How much of the full picture was the governor's senior staff given regarding the development of this lane closure project? With the tight control this administration maintains, it doesn't stretch the imagination that they were given more information than they let on. When they were preparing spin control, how could they not have been given the whole story?"

Advice for departing appointee

A spokesman for Christie had dinner with Wildstein two days before the transportation official resigned over questions around the now-notorious multi-day traffic jam in Fort Lee last September, e-mails released on Friday show.

The day after the dinner in December, Wildstein thanked Michael Drewniak, the governor's spokesman, for his "sound advice" and the two men later e-mailed back and forth about how to announce his departure from the Port Authority.

In one email, Drewniak said the governor approved the final statement.

"Can you do dinner in New Brunswick this evening," asked Drewniak on December 4. Twenty minutes later, Wildstein wrote, "Sure as long as short notice doesn't inconvenience you."

The next morning, Wildstein wrote Drewniak. "Thanks again for all your sound advice last night, I always appreciate your friendship."

The e-mail did not detail any advice given to Wildstein.

He resigned on December 6 amid controversy over the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge that snarled traffic in Fort Lee for four days.

On Wednesday, e-mails suggested top Christie appointees orchestrated the gridlock to allegedly punish the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting the governor's re-election effort.

Wildstein refused on Thursday to testify before a state legislative committee investigating the scandal.

In an e-mail on December 6, Drewniak sends Wildstein the finalized statement with the note, "This was my revised – which I sent to the Gov and he approved."

Christie says he knew nothing of any political vendetta and was stunned by allegations clouding his administration.

To be or not to be a politician

In the end, the statement read, "Mr. Wildstein has been a tireless advocate for New Jersey's interests at the Port Authority. We are grateful for his commitment and dedication to the important work of the Port Authority and thank him for his service to the people of New Jersey and the region."


Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (553 Responses)
  1. leeslam

    what a bunch of idjeoits

    January 10, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  2. Deltron N'Ganbgo

    It's funny that CNN isn't even mentioning how Obama purposedly set US troops up to be slaughtered in Afghanistan (while simulataneously working with Karzai to work out an additional 10 year stay there), but they think a bridge closure by Christie's suboordinates is a big deal.

    January 10, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  3. Digging for dirt....

    CNN is looking for dirt, of arguably the least important news story of the last year. Makes you wonder who is paying for all those CNN employees!

    January 10, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    "By all means, investigate this story. I just wish those at CNN had the same zeal and enthusiasm for investigating the Benghazi matter and the IRS scandal. "

    You guys are ridiculous. CNN's political team had to go see their doctors because it lasted more than 4 hours each time one of those scandals broke.

    January 10, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  5. SAtom

    Posted here due to comments being stopped at the story page. I wonder why ???

    Meanwhile, in the US Senate, progress on the unemployment benefits extension is stymied due to Republican efforts to effect cuts to other benefit programs, to pay for the extension.

    Earlier Thursday, there seemed to be momentum for the compromise that would have offset the $18 billion cost of the benefits by keeping cuts to Medicare providers and by preventing people who get Social Security disability benefits from also getting unemployment checks. !

    I didn't realize that I could draw both the Social Security payment for my disability and draw unemployment also. Well, it's off to the unemployment office to collect my bennies !

    January 10, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  6. Witty's Opinion...

    people are just so mean and severe, we do not have all of the facts, stop the judgement until you have every ounce of truth due to you....

    January 10, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  7. FrankinSD

    Let's see how many of Governor Crispy's aids are willing to go to jail to protect him and how many are willing to flip. Remember, only the first to crack get's anything out of giving him up.

    January 10, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    Haha. Have fun with the doc showing that Christie met with David Samson, Chairman of the Port Authority, one week before the bridge closing. Wildstein produced it in response to a subpoena for docs related to the bridge closing, so he's implicitly admitted it the meeting was related. Enjoy.

    January 10, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  9. Gladiatior

    Turdgyl

    "Listen, I don't give darn hoot for Benghazi–it is not USA, NJ is in USA. Don't be stupid. Women is killed in NJ, not in Benghazi. Nor in fast and furious. This big fat NJ boy is bully."
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Ummm....is this post for real???

    January 10, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  10. Rudy NYC

    Roger Korby wrote on page 6:

    The MSM and print media are now hellbent on destroying Christie for 2016 like they did to Herman Cain.
    ------------------------------------–
    Seriouisly? Herman Cain? The media had no control over Mr. Cain's hands. "Mine! Mine! Mine!"

    January 10, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  11. Col B

    This could destroy Americas image abroad and do irreparable damage. Congressional hearings are required immediately. Bengazi and IRS investigations must be put on hold. 911 pales in comparison to the atrocity of closing several lanes of traffic!

    January 10, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  12. Deltron N'Ganbgo

    "Christie, you just got NSA pwn3d. LOL"\

    –Barack Obama

    January 10, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  13. The Worm, Jr.

    Some traffic jams, so what? Don't we have more important things to worry about, like the deficit?

    January 10, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  14. Ryan

    Christie might be tried under the Patriot Act by the Obama Adminastration? google Governor Christie "Domestic Terrorist" ...Cnn wont allow hyperlinks

    January 10, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  15. Dan Gordon

    Just think how much we might know if CNN actually did this much digging on President Obama or those in his Administration responsible for SO MANY scandals.

    January 10, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  16. Mary

    Christie refused to reappoint a liberal state Supreme Court justice, John E. Wallace Jr.(Black only black on court) The move angered New Jersey Democrats, and they refused to confirm Christie’s nominees to replace Wallace.
    The feud became so intense that Christie called state Democrats “animals” for failing to approve a Republican to the next seat vacant on the court last summer. Christie called a press conference on Aug. 12, 2013, to blast Democrats for not backing his choice.
    NEXT DAY BRIDGE CLOSED THIS IS THE REAL REASON HEAD OF STATE SEN IS DEM FROM FORT LEE FESS UP CHRISTIE DEMS WOULDN'T FOLD TO YOUR BULLYING AND YOU DECIDED TO GET BACK THIS IS MORE THE TRUE CHRISTIE THAN THE WIMPY GUY AT THE NEWS CONFERENCE YESTERDAY THAT WAS LAUGHABLE

    January 10, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    So what about Bengazi,IRS,NSA,Fast and Furious obamacare Oh and what about transperacy in the whitehouse!!!!! Stop being so BIAS no wonder nobody watches your news!

    January 10, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. dastreagus

    Christie demonstrates why you should reserve your Empire State of Mind until after winning a national election. What a bunch of idjeoits is right. Completely unnecessary for Governor Christie to sail his ship like that at this time. It sounds like he went China syndrome style on a black cat. in other words.. he escalated a thousand times.

    January 10, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. MCFx

    Seth wrote, "The only scandal there was the one made up by Fox News and 60 minutes."

    Really? Then why did the Obama Administration just designate those involved with the attack in Benghazi as "terrorists". That's what Fox had been reporting from day one while Obama's puppets including Hillary went to every news outlet and before Congress and stated that it was a sudden riot provoked by a video on Youtube?

    January 10, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  20. Franklin

    Traffic is always a mess there, how could they tell the difference?

    January 10, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  21. Toph

    Anonymous

    dont you people have jobs
    _______________

    Yep, the liberal gang on here are paid posters, they get paid for every post they make (well if you can call that a real job.....)!!!!

    January 10, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  22. sirkjeff

    CNN the ANIT-FOX news channel.

    January 10, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  23. rr

    This issue is about AGOP = Abuse of Government Power (get it), it's a GOP thang!

    January 10, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  24. ChrisM

    So it appears that Christie fostered an atmosphere of threats and intimidation in his political dealings.
    In other words, Christie is a Bully. Oh and btw Christie's staff did not go to the bathroom without asking Christie.

    January 10, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    @Rudy:

    Bill O'Reilly has been promising an upcoming report about a 'new' Fox News investigation into all of the scandals, most particularly Benghazi. In fact, Fox has been blowing the Obama scandals horns louder than ever. The day the emails hit the news, their prime time line up of Bill, Greta, and Sean did not even discuss the emails until they were well into the second half hour of their one hour shows. Fox has its' viewers so fired up that BridgeGate is lost in the cosmic background radiation.
    ------------–

    Rudy, if this is truly the case, then O'Reilly has played his hand way too often. These folks are completely off their rockers. I actually feel sorry for how foolish they're sounding. They have absolutely no idea what they're even talking about.

    January 10, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
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