January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
10 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. Chris e- al.

    Wow god save the u.s.a.

    January 10, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  2. el dono

    The only question remaining is how soon will Christie leave office, whether he resigns or is kicked out. Is Christie a "bully"? He's the Jersey governor! Give me a break!

    January 10, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  3. Wise1Speak

    THE LEVEL OF IGNORANCE IS ASTONISHING

    For those posting comments insinuating that the intentional traffic backup on GW Bridge was a non-issue, than you have shown the readers your lack of understanding. Hey, can you say Watergate?

    Remember, Watergate started out as a simple hotel room break-in. But two years later it led to: (1) the termination of more than a dozen high-profile Nixon administrators, (2) Nixon’s impeachment, (3) a slew of new campaign laws, and (4) the greatest scoop in Newspaper history [i.e. Washington Post].

    This story is not about the bridge, it is about the "ABUSE of POWER to SEEK POLITICAL RETRIBUTION". And that is a major no-no.

    January 10, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  4. lean6

    "Can I remind the concern trolls and the rabid people with no lives that former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is spending 17 years in jail for much much less than this?"

    Hey Visitor, Umm...Blago tried to sell a Senate seat.

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

    Meanwhile Obama fires the Canadian company who he outsourced Obamacare to because they were Michelle's classmates.

    January 10, 2014 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  6. fdgsdfg

    I don't see the problem here. They did a bridge traffic study that required a lane to be closed to gauge traffic issues. Yes it was on purpose, but it was for planning and testing. When they said "let's create some traffic" that was just off the cuff acknowledgement that the study would create traffic and that is exactly what they were studying here. I don't see any freaking problem with any of this. People are bored, a slow news week. Give me a break.

    January 10, 2014 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  7. Josh Gracin

    Wow CNN, bridge scandal? You've done more investigative reporting and smearing on this subject than you did on Benghazi, NSA, IRS or the countless other true scandals of this administration. Pat yourself on your hypocritical and bias backs. Smear a RePub. over a bridge but let Hillary walk. That's just hilarious.

    January 10, 2014 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  8. Ken Margo

    Ok Obama haters, let's see if the repubs can have the same venom towards the elephant man like they did against Obama.

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

    Visitor!

    Blagoejevich was convicted!

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

    CNN on Chistie is like a white trash on Obozo.

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

    I am an independent voter with no allegiance to either party. I can't speak for all independents, but I can truly say I'm watching what's going on and I'm starting to think my vote will go for Christie if he runs. It's funny how, since he's had surgery and lost a little weight for a Presidential run, that this "scandal" all of a sudden appears. Gotta love the yellow journalism.

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

    A traffic study did in fact occur. No wonder there are only 400 posts. All the haters are digging their tails out from between their legs!

    January 10, 2014 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  13. chuckt

    Thats what you get for hugging O'Bama. Too funny.....Just another Liberal hiding behind the Republican party. Have fun with him switching over to the Democratic party.

    January 10, 2014 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "Considering that the daughter of the 91 year old woman that died of natural causes doesn't blame the delay of EMT's getting their in 7 minutes as opposed to the 4 minutes they claimed it should've taken, I find your feigned outrage rather convenient!"

    Considering the only thing that matters is whether the medical examiner/coroner's office makes that determination and decides whether to send it to the DA's office, it's really not the family's call.

    That being said, it's a tough sell. However, it does serve to highlight the kind of public endangerment involved here. It would be exceedingly easy to invent a scenario where EMS delays as a result of deliberately manufactured traffic jams really did cause someone's death.

    January 10, 2014 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  15. mykel

    Jackson, last I checked, this article wasn't about Obama. Maybe you need remedial reading lessons. There's a couple articles about Obama, elsewhere, on this site. I think you ought to comment on those. I know comprehension can be difficult, but I have faith in you. Now, get lost.

    January 10, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  16. mykel

    Jackson, last I checked, this article wasn't about Obama. Maybe you need remedial reading lessons. There's a couple articles about Obama, elsewhere, on this site. I think you ought to comment on those. I know comprehension can be difficult, but I have faith in you. Now, get lost. Idiot.

    January 10, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  17. Tired of the News Ted

    FOX whines all day about the so called 'liberal media bias' and CNN just validates their propaganda.

    Who's ready for a FUN midterm election year!?

    Shoot me now.

    January 10, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  18. Smeagel4T

    Christie: "I am not a bully."
    Nixon: "I am not a crook."

    January 10, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    Clearly, the big takeaway for everyone here should be that we really need government to get out of the road building and road management business and let the free market take care of our travel. I mean, what better analogy could there possibly be for the fact that gov't bureaucracy brings everything to a standstill than the fact that the gov't is completely incapable of stopping all massive traffic jams and keeping the roads clear and flowing at all times to allow us freedumb of movement? Privatize the highways!

    Haha...idiots...sigh...

    January 10, 2014 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  20. Eardley Ham Woodbury, MN

    I am not a traffic engineer but if I wanted to know how many Fort Lee autos crossed the bridge I would not have to funnel them into a single lane to count them.

    Simply counting all the cars in the three lanes and running a fairly simple computer simulation would provide every bit of information that a competent traffic management department would need to assess the effect of lane additions or removals. These people are incompetent.

    January 10, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  21. Joe R.

    Hey news media: Would you like some more political stories. Why not do some investigative stories on Chicago Politicians and how things run over here. After all, what is Chicago (and now Illinois) politics known for? Which party has a monopoly over Chicago and control over Illinois again? (Hint: starts D and ends with rats, how fitting).

    January 10, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  22. Meanwhile, back on Reality Ranch....

    ..... blah, blah, blah. Where is the evidence that Christie knew about it or was involved? THERE IS NONE. Give it up CNN. There is no there there.

    January 10, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  23. Chris e- al.

    Everybodys out to get us an we are our own worst enemy?!

    January 10, 2014 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  24. dastreagus

    patrick foye for president 2016

    January 10, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  25. may40

    You Dems are amazing, I don't like Christie, but you're making a federal case over this and yet Obama gets a free pass on Benghazi, Fast and Furious, high unemployment (remember although the numbers are in the 6% range they are faux as most have given up looking for a job), Obamacare, least transparent administration ever, the Syria mess etc etc. You libs are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.

    January 10, 2014 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
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