January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
6 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. rr

    Christi is toast.

    January 10, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  2. Christie Ordered the Closures

    There is no way Chris Christie did not know about these closures. His behavior has been reprehensible. For those deflecting from this by citing other government failures – grow up. Americans have to hold all politicians in check regardless of what side of the aisle they represent. What Christie did impacted Americans. He should be run out of office. It is too bad. He did have New Jersey and a lot of America convinced that he could be an interesting President. Glad the real Chris Christie has been revealed before we were fooled into voting for him as our President.

    January 10, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  3. wildman

    in case anyone has any doubt about what bureaucrats and political cons will do with power; here's your answer...now just extrapolate this to the rest of the corruption in this country and ask yourselves if you really want to give up your rights to defend yourself to these people...how many of them swore up and down they'd never abuse power...they want it just in case...if this woman doesn't go to prison for this, you have your second answer.

    January 10, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  4. Rick H.

    Wow....OK....why did I click in this article and read it?? Sensational news as only CNN can deliver....now we know why CNN is going down the toilet......

    January 10, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  5. jerrylax

    oh my big surprise…this is NJ politics, big surprise! Fact is this republicans polls show better than clinton, and that is a problem for the other side. Another thing is the dems do not want very moderate republicans to take control of the party. If Romney had ran on his moderate record more strongly we would not be putting up with ACA and the melt down of the middle east…haha

    January 10, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  6. Chris

    Meh..... I'll just wait 15 months for the New York Times to report the actual story.

    January 10, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  7. Rudy NYC

    bowelmovement wrote on page 8:

    Breaking News.... cnn completely ignored this same situation when Obama did it
    ---------------------------–
    I don't recall anyone wilthin Pres. Obama's inner circle calling up the Pentagon and ordering them to do something. But, I have no doubt that Fox reported on it.

    January 10, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  8. Merc

    The same people who cry bloody murder every time President Obama sneezes are the same people now crying, "Move along, nothing to see here...." But we can't move along...the bridge is blocked.

    January 10, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  9. wildman

    ya, cnn: make sure you cut out any comments that your political masters don't approve of...

    January 10, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  10. MICKEY DOYLE

    when did msnbc buy cnn news.?i remember when cnn was the best news outlet in the country.now they are as bad as the news papers in the check out line in a super market.why are the democrats and liberals so scared of Christie.he just proved to everyone that none of your body parts fall off if you tell the truth.

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

    I believe Christie is tied up with the mob. I wouldn't be surprised if that came out.

    January 10, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  12. FrankinSD

    Public safety issues? There goes your "reasonably knowledge" defense to a charge of negligent homicide.

    January 10, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  13. Germanchick

    In my opinion, those who created the bridge closure should be held criminally responsible and face jail time

    January 10, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  14. Jamal

    If Christy is to be faulted for this scandal because he is the boss, then how about Obama being faulted for the IRS and NSA scandals? It about made me sick last night to watch those fat Democrats spouting off about Kristi being guilty when they won't even consider Obama's role in all the scandals that have gone down in the past several years. Pathetic.

    January 10, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  15. zoomzoom

    Pinocchio looks like a saint! Can`t wait 4 the perp walk 4 all these clowns!

    January 10, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  16. dajowi

    "How can a decision like this be made without it being discussed and considered at the highest levels?" If I didn't know any better I'd might have thought they were talking about the Affordable Care Act, i.e. Obamacare.

    January 10, 2014 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  17. MNClownfactory

    Whether Christi was involved or not this is typical GOP behavior. The party is made up of Angry old White guys and vengeful political wannabee's. The fact that some of you are defending this issue as a slow news day or big deal just a traffic jam. I wonder what you will think if people died or were fired from a job or couldnt close a business deal because they couldnt get through the snarled traffic for four days. The point is. why should common american citizens pay the price for political hacks wanting to drive home a political point. Whether you are a Conservative, Facist, Liberal or Communist you should be outraged that games these political parties play are affecting US everyday.

    January 10, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  18. scarf

    I'm really discouraged that so many people don't see the similarities between Obama's IRS scandal and Christie's bridge scandal. Both involve allegations of abuse of power and targeting of political opponents. The principle common to them is serious. Both should be investigated and justice brought to anyone breaking the law, up to and including impeachment. However, even Darrell Issa admits that he can't find any evidence to tie the IRS scandal to the White House (yes, Republicans, there WAS an investigation). For Republicans now to poo-poo the allegations against Christie and claim that no investigation is warranted is to tacitly admit that their allegations about Obama and the IRS were about nothing more important than politics. To hell with partisanship. As Americans (not Republicans or Democrats), we should be insisting on poliltical discussions based on priniciples and policies, not party or personal attacks. Remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle."

    January 10, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  19. Dave

    Well, Republicans, you'll get another shot at the White House (maybe) in 2024. Hope that's not too long a wait.

    January 10, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  20. MICKEY DOYLE

    now cnn knows the same info that Christie knew yesterday morning.

    January 10, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  21. lionhart

    This article is about the Christie scandal. Not Hillary or Obama. Please stay on topic!!!

    January 10, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  22. paul

    Clearly, the Corrupt Christie Game Plan for his Team : *  Plead the Fifth and Go to Jail *  Admit NOTHING *  Take ALL the Heat and Blame *  We need Me (Christie) to remain Governor to Pardon you all eventually whereas if I go to Jail we are ALL staying in Prison His Acting "Performance" was indeed Oscar worthy!! * even better than Alan Alda's same marathon scandal Presser on fictional TV

    January 10, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  23. lean6

    Notice the Jewish holiday travel impact mentioned in the article. They're really going after him now.

    January 10, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  24. Toph

    That Man

    Do you know how many Americans died at various embassy/related attacks around the globe when Bush was president?
    _________________________

    Ya and Bush never LIED about what happened at them, Obama's crew DID!!!! (and don't start crying about Bush and WMD, you will have to call MANY DEMS LIARS too cause they BELIEVED they were there too!!!) All you liberals are just a bunch of partisan hacks, no care when Obama was caught in MANY lies about obamacare but now you are concerned….PARTISAN HACKS!

    January 10, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  25. anchorite

    This is clearly just CNN's attempt to distract us from the real issue: Benghazi. I'm not sure where that is or what happened there, but I've heard enough buzz that Obama did something bad that obviously the media's refusal to make enough buzz about Obama doing something bad means they're covering something up.

    January 10, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
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