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. Quill7

    The meaning of the word 'integrity' is non-existent to so many media outlets.

    January 10, 2014 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  2. pdq

    "Let's compare the bridge closure to sequester... I'm amazed at how forgetful libs are. Didn't Obama act out with the same level of petulance when he closed the national mall, national parks, the White House and grounded the Blue Angels over his sequester being enacted. And sequester was his idea in the first place... so it gets enacted against his wishes and he decides to close small cost programs and facilities just to let us feel a little pain. "

    Uh, that was the government shutdown, not the sequester.

    You know, the _shutdown_ of all _non-essential_ government services? That all the conservatives thought was great, until the loss of those services inconvenienced them, and then it was all Obama's fault?

    Are Park Service officers at National Monuments "essential" government services? I didn't think so. And I can just imagine if some nut had covered the WWII monument with green paint while no one was on duty, like some nut tried to do at the Lincoln monument earlier in the year before she was stopped – I can't imagine how you guys would have howled about that.

    Honestly, at least make some sort of minimally-cogent arguments when you defend your pals like Christie, m'Kay?

    January 10, 2014 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  3. Conscience

    Thanks so much, CNN, for your thoroughness regarding the traffic jams. It was frustrating. I know you will get to the bottom of it with your usual unrelenting investigate skills and commitment.

    Thanks, too, for the same commitment you made to Benghazi where four Americans were killed including our Ambassador. Due to your tenacious and relentless investigation – we now know all there is to know about that historic tragedy.

    Oh, I almost forgot. Another "thank you" is due. Thanks for the way you got to the bottom of the IRS scandal too. You know – the one where people suspect a Presidential vendetta against conservatives who did not support President Obama. This traffic jam vendetta is much more important.

    I'm sure Woodward and Bernstein are proud of such courageous, investigative reporting. The Clinton's are too.

    January 10, 2014 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  4. John

    Christie is also responsible for blocking the rail improvements through the whole Northeast rail system. When you play small ball this is what you get.

    January 10, 2014 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    "patrick foye for president 2016"

    To be fair, based on a furious email he sent excoriating this insanity, it doesn't look like he was involved. In his email, he said things like this:

    "This hasty and ill-advised decision has resulted in delays to emergency vehicles. I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or hospice-bound patient delayed...I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both States."

    "To be clear, I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for; I intend to learn how PA process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged to say nothing of the credibility of this agency."

    He might be the only one who comes out unscathed (unless, of course, his email is just cover for himself, but I take it at face value for now).

    January 10, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  6. Sean

    Who shuts down a road to do a traffic study? That's like shutting down pipes to examine flow rate.

    January 10, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Who gives a 100+ minute "I'm sorry - so sorry" press conference and then sends his minions out to call the continuing news coverage an "unneccessary" waste of time?

    January 10, 2014 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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?”
    -------------------------------------------------
    That's what I've been saying all along, but apparently cnn doesn't want that type of discussion on this thread.
    But yes, how could this happen without the knowledge and consent of someone at the highest level?
    And just as importantly, once it did happen, why wasn't the decision immediately reversed as opposed to being joked about by the Governor and his top aides?
    It is incongruous and irresponsible at best, and criminally Soprano-like at it's worst.

    January 10, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  9. Laughing

    At least nobody died unlike Fast and Furious...Benghazi....innocent civilians in drone strikes

    January 10, 2014 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  10. BHS

    Perhaps free toll for a month would help compensate for losses due to being held up in traffic for hours on end. Christie should pay it out of his own wallet. You know, that stunt cost thousands of people a lot of time, money and metal anguish.

    January 10, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  11. BeverlyNC

    Christie sounds just like Nixon. Fires everybody around him involved while pretending he knew nothing about it all until "yesterday morning"?? It has been on national news since August. It was on national news the day it started. Christie's Port Authority appointee has taken the 5th but says he will tell all to Federal prosecutors if he gets immunity.
    Christie is guilty. Even he knew nothing about it until yesterday then why did he fire everybody before asking "what happened?", "what is going on?" . Republicans always get caught eventually in their lies. They do nothing for the People – only damage – and Christie and his vindictive games proves it. Who cares who dies when the streets are gridlocked? Who cares children can't get to school on the first day of school? Who cares people cannot get to work? I get to prove I am a jerk and prove you better not cross me. Goodbye GOP.

    January 10, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  12. Quixote

    Crispy is standing in front of a towering inferno, saying....move along, nothing to see here......

    He turned the national spotlight on himself. He is not the first to find out that the glare of presidential ambitions reveals everything.

    January 10, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  13. Bill

    so a repub gov screws up,( maybe) and all conservs have is OBAMA.. LOL

    January 10, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  14. BeattyCat

    CNN: If there was a 'study,' as your headline states, what WAS the study?–What was the name of it?–What was its' stated intent (what was the 'study' seeking to discover)? Seriously, you cannot state that there was a study just because someone on Gov. Christie's staff calls closing down crucial lanes on a busy bridge a 'study' without further information - especially in the context of what has unfolded to date. Thank you.

    January 10, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  15. Discernment

    Down goes the last best GOP Presidential contender to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016!

    It's a good day :-)

    January 10, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Sean

    Who shuts down a road to do a traffic study? That's like shutting down pipes to examine flow rate
    -------------------------------------------------
    Like Madea would say: "Heller?!".
    Excellent point!

    January 10, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  17. Demigod Vadik, CA

    This is just the beginning of problems for Christie...

    ...now they will scrutinize ever little petty vendetta he's ever had...

    ...a classic "stuck a fork in him, he's done"...

    ...I just hope he ends up in prison for his abuse of Government power for personal retributions...

    January 10, 2014 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  18. ACMI

    Now I know why CNN is so focused on this news of Christie it is because CNN is diverting attention from the liberal POTUS who just sent US troops into Somalia.

    January 10, 2014 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  19. rwhite

    I would like to know the background of Ms. Kelly. Why is the press not keying in on her since she is the trigger of the entire episode. Is Gov. Christie protecting her?

    January 10, 2014 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  20. visitor

    Conscience – The IRS "scandal" is at the bottom because it is dead and done and vetted. I invite you to read tax law and what non profit status consists of. Regarding Bengazi I invite you to read the New York Times very very thorough article dated 12/28/13. You may have more satisfaction and find more happiness knowing these issues are covered very very very very very thoroughly. The conclusions may not align with that which gives you satisfaction but that is your own deal with your own happiness. Peace.

    January 10, 2014 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  21. Digging for dirt....

    mountains out of molehills....

    January 10, 2014 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  22. CALIFORNIA

    Democrats / liberals foaming at the mouth I see.

    I laugh at thee.

    January 10, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  23. Dumbas[R]ocks

    The stupidity of today's [R] party, and the human refuse who inhabit it, should never be underestimated.

    Meanwhile, [D]s continue to rake in new money for the 2016 election, while [R]s go on the defensive and prepare to have their balls hammered against the concrete for the 3rd straight time. OUCH!

    But my old high school footbal coach would have some good news for the [R]s: as he used to say "No brain. No pian."

    January 10, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  24. ThisIsWhatYouCanExpectFromTheLiberalLeft

    Curious how much press CNN gives this, and how little it gave Fast-And-Furious, the AP Scandal, the IRS Scandal, Benghazi, ACA lies etc.

    Journalism is dead. It is all about propaganda.

    January 10, 2014 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  25. Ulysses-AZ

    We hope that no lives have been lost? This story has officially jumped the tracks and is careening wildly towards Kooksville. Christie is going to get what he deserves. His penchant for sucking up to prominent Democrats is not going to buy him any succor from the generically aforementioned Dems, either.

    January 10, 2014 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
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