January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
7 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. Jackson

    phil

    Christy took less than 24hrs to fire the perps. Barry gives his minions a promotion when they screw up.

    ______________

    And Bush cites "executive privilege" to keep his cronies from being prosecuted.

    And the GOP names an airport after Reagan, ignoring the High Treason.

    January 10, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  2. Gurgyl

    GOP is gone to dogs, pretty much sure. False Iraq war, no WMD, Iran-contra affairs, Halliburton loots, cheats, trillions of dollars pour In Afghanistan, Pakistan where Bin Laden hid, voluntarily escaped Bin Laden, Trickle-down nonsense, NRA bribes, gun-dealers bribe, GOP is gone, man, gone to dogs. They want wars, guns, bribe, not healthcare, education, infrastructure, not pass JOBS-BILL...I PITY.

    January 10, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. Jackson

    Mark

    Since when is incomprehensive a word?

    ___________

    The day after "strategery" became one.

    January 10, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  4. Name

    How about you do the research and publish a complete review instead of guessing what each bit means as you go. Have you learned nothing from being wrong on so many stories.

    January 10, 2014 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  5. Jackson

    Jr Pioneer

    I know those rascal republicans always blame someone else. Thank goodness the democrats dont do that. How is your Health Care plan by the way? History will remember your guy for one line only. " If you want to keep your....... " Only a matter of time before some one blames that on Bush too

    _____________

    Being remembered for one line only, like "Mission Accomplished"?

    January 10, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  6. hardwired

    Chris Christie's presidential aspirations have just undergone a gastric bypass.

    January 10, 2014 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  7. The Mayor

    "Scandal", this is hardly news worthy.....Yawn... I guess it's back to searching for cool paint drying videos for me.

    January 10, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  8. freddie

    If there is one thing this lane closure scandal proves, it is that Christie and his cabinet are perfect for the presidency. They closed those bridge lanes to cause hardship for the Mayor of Fort Lee NJ but the only people that really felt hardship from the lane closures were the people stuck in traffic for four days. So the highest office in NJ has shown they have the intelligence to run the entire country in the same manner our executive and legislative branches have been operating since 2000. People in government are the most fascinating critters on the planet.

    January 10, 2014 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  9. Jean

    "What difference does it make?" I just love the irony soaked comments from left wingers as they pounce on this and manufacture it into a "scandal" much bigger than it is when they willingly had their heads so far up where the sun don't shine when Obama's scandals on Benghazi and the IRS targeting of conservative groups came out and then had the nerve to call them "manufactured" scandals. Once again democrats hypocrisy is epic. I also find it incredibly funny that left wingers criticize conservatives when they invoke the way the media handled the Obama IRS and Benghazi scandals (a few short months ago) to show the hypocrisy and double-standards of democrats as well as the media when all the democrats do every single day, after 6 years of Obama, is try to blame Bush or say "Bush did it too so that makes it ok". You left-wing dems are a joke. Dems, and the left-leaning media, need to explain why they don't hold Obama to the same standard they want to hold Republicans to.

    January 10, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  10. John

    You people should have the same interest with Obama where people died

    January 10, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  11. Phil in KC

    I'm a left-leaning Democrat and even I think this has been blown out of proportion just a bit. Yes – it wasn't right, but this is NJ, where pay-backs are a way of life and they don't care who gets in the way. Of course his staffer, who used gmail to make comments about it deserved to be fired. That's just stupid.

    January 10, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  12. Jackson

    John

    I love how Obama can ruin our economy with taxes and regulations, have the Bengazi incident, target Tea Party conservative groups which is clearly EXACTLY the same thing Christi did except it got Obama re-elected and the media doesn't bother reporting it with any vigor. But if a conservative makes even the slightest blunder, the media treats it as the most important story ever. A bridge was partially closed for two days? Some people had an inconvenient commute LOL. How does that even remotely compare to targeting Tea Party groups.

    ______________

    EMTs got to 911 calls later than they should have. At least one person died. Maybe if you were paying more attention to ALL of the facts of this case, you could engage in an intelligent debate. But, hey what's a life to you, right? It wasn't anyone you knew, so why should you care? Right? And I thought life was sacred to the GOP.

    I wonder how much FOX had to say about Bush starting an illegal war by lying to Congress in order to justify his spending. FOX loves to talk about the 4 in Benghazi but not the ***4,000*** in Iraq. Right?

    But, hey, you're only interested in playing partisan politics and spouting talking points, so why bother bringing the real facts into this, right?

    January 10, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  13. Reggie53

    Headline news again from CNN!!!!!! Hooray the fools are happy...they think they have a scandal on Christie. Maybe they should be looking at Obama and his corrupt croonies and see how their scandals are wrecking our country. CNN is so biased and that is why their ratings keep dropping. Poor reporting on their part!!!!!!! I really have to laugh at these jokers....they are trying to find something to bring Christie down and they will not find anything. It would have been better if they had made the same effort to vett Obama and then we would not have to be putting up with such a loser being our president.

    January 10, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  14. Shelli Brett

    People live in traffic jams all day long, every day.

    January 10, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  15. Johnnypatroit

    LOL its funny how the media can't stop reporting on a Gov closing lanes of traffic ...but when out country Abandons Americans in Benghazi ... ... what about how Bloomberg is misusing his office and tax payers $$ ..but yes lets worry about bad traffic right ...

    January 10, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  16. Jackson

    The Mayor

    "Scandal", this is hardly news worthy.....Yawn... I guess it's back to searching for cool paint drying videos for me.

    ______________

    Someone dying isn't newsworthy. I wonder if you would feel different if that person had been in your family.

    But I guess, with your obvious lack of intelligence, paint drying videos are probably all you can understand.

    January 10, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  17. sly

    Me

    sly

    Y'all BenGayZ conspiracy folks – go to that blog, we really don't care about that.
    _________________________

    Now sly is making fun of gay people, HAVE YOU NO SHAME??? Seriously, what is wrong with you, do you have a mental disability we should know about????
    ======
    I have no shame, and several mental disabilities.

    But I wasn't making fun of Gay people. I was making fun of the skin product, and the Pittsburgh Steeler's quarterback.

    Now ... about my mental disabilities. Many. For one, I burst out laughing whenever I think about how Ted Cruz and Chris Christie shot themselves in the foot and removed themselves from national consideration.

    January 10, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  18. Garrett from Texas

    NEWSFLASH: CNN works for the Democratic party and will work tirelessly to attack a Republican Presidential contender over the inappropriate closing of a highway by his subordinates that he punished, but WON'T work at all to even give an objective view of the scandals of the Democratic President whose people were behind violations of every American's Civil Liberities in the form of the IRS Scandal (violating 1st Amendment), NSA (violating 1st and 4th Amendments), Drone assassinations of an American suspected terrorist who maintain "enemy" websites and his admittedly "innocent" son (violating 1st, 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments).

    January 10, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. zuglo

    If an ordinary person committed an act that kept 3 lanes closed on one of the busiest bridges in America that person would be labelled a terrorist and face lengthy jail-time. A politician achieves the same act of sabotage with a phone call and it is called a "political vendetta." Chris Christie called Andrew Cuomo in early December to complain that is aide was "pressing too hard for answers" to the lane closures. This looks like the act of a guilty man trying to cover-up what was a criminal act. All of those involved including Chris Christie should face criminal prosecution to the full extent of the law for putting thousands of lives at risk, causing possibly millions of dollars in lost economic productivity due to hours of delays workers faced and possibly contributing to the death of at least one elderly woman whom paramedics could not reach.

    January 10, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  20. Tom Trouve

    Bridge Gate is humming forward! #politicaldeathbyscandal

    January 10, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  21. Monomachos

    If the media had been as gung-ho about investigating the IRS scandal, the AP scandal, and Benghazi as they are about the closure of 4 lanes on a bridge, maybe those investigations would have wrapped up by now instead of being strung along by the administration.
    People – some perspective here would be nice. Feel free to call the governor out – if you have also been calling for full disclosure on the much more significant scandals.

    January 10, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  22. B_Lebowski

    "What difference does it make??!!" -HRC

    (by the way, I don't vote for either party / am not partisan. Let's have a little fairness in our political coverage, hmm, CNN?)

    January 10, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  23. I R Amazed

    Denise

    I guess I don't understand why the Jewish Holiday is being mentioned? Shouldn't matter WHAT or WHO, just that the traffic was bad for EVERYONE.

    Randy....somehow someone will blame it on GWB, isn't everything his fault?

    --------------------------------------------

    Actually, GWB IS the issue here! For 10s of millions of who have lived in the NY metro area those initials stand for one thing and one thing only – GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE!

    That you have no clue why the Jewish high holidays are mentioned is indicative of the fact that you know nothing of the NY metro area or Jewish religious practices and I'm not going to teach you why it mattered.
    You certainly don't understand how blocking two of three lanes of the most heavily used street level entrance to the GWB (a half block long no less) completely gridlocked city streets to the south and west, especially traffic traveling north on Palisade Ave and Anderson Ave. In fact you don't seem to understand that this little area along the Hudson River has the absolute highest population density in the entire USA.

    January 10, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    Abuse of authority is what Bridgette did. Wildstein was aware. This only shows and proves that the Governor never checked or had appropriate meetings with his administration. This is going to be one showdown. As for the Governor it will be a huge lesson learned in all aspects of people skills, morals, respect and integrity for the position given by the same people that placed you in the position.

    January 10, 2014 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  25. Howard

    The fault for this closure is squarely on the mayor who didn't endorse governor Christie. If he had this closure wouldn't have occurred.

    January 10, 2014 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
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