January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
4 years 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. BudW

    I wasnt voting for CC any way,that said interesting how cnn is all in on looking into on CC but Obama they look the other way hummmmmm.

    January 10, 2014 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  2. rs

    Ted Barnes

    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. There is no credible media coming from the left (CNN, CBS, NBC, MSNBC), it's just transparent opinion engineering.
    Hey Brainiac- The GOP wrote the Sequester Bill, and the GOP shutdown the government last October.

    January 10, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  3. joe

    Kind of like his direct way of talking, but I think Christie may be on his way out. I predict more damning evidence from emails. Still surprised on how ppl communicate via email etc, and don't consider the risk. If they a e truly that dumb, they should not be in charge of any form of government.

    January 10, 2014 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  4. Scissor Hands

    Should a felony be considered here? Forget the past stature of this individual. Was a felony committed?

    January 10, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    "Who shuts down a road to do a traffic study?"

    People who would shut down the gov't to "prove" it's broken.

    January 10, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  6. honest john in vermont

    After reading the newest emails released it seems evident that Christie's many appointees had a hand or a leg in this fiasco and coordinated and instigated the 4 day mess for political revenge. To think Christie had zero knowledge to the Fort Lee mess over 4 days is laughable. I mean really–was he sleeping the whole time.

    If he was awake then either he is stupid or complicit. I know he isn't that stupid, which leaves only 1 answer–he knew what was going on and all his denying digs him a deeper hole he will never squirm out of.

    January 10, 2014 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  7. GonzoinHouston

    It's ironic that conservatives want to bring up Benghazi in response to this. This issue is, effectively, the GOP's Benghazi. There was a screw-up, and now various political opponents are trying their best to blow it up to Watergate proportions. The results will be about the same as Benghazi as well; it will mean nothing to his supporters; it will mean everything to his opponents, and to the independents with no party loyalty it will mean a little bit, maybe.

    Sometimes what goes around really does come back around!

    January 10, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  8. gibby

    Christie / lanes closed in jersey/ come on man!! the whole muslim world is being overran by alqueda and / or iran. the worst foreign policy in 38 years. fewer jobs created this month than any in the last 3 years. Fewer people in the work force since 1978. Wake up CNN and let your viewers here the real news and maybe you would get some of them back. It is so important to make the president look good that you would watch this great nation self destruct. ashamed of you Wolf Blitzer, thought you were a true journalist.

    January 10, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  9. Damien

    Everything I've read so far makes me think Ft. Lee is lucky to have Sokolich for their mayor.

    January 10, 2014 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  10. YUCK

    They should all be fired for political corruption.

    January 10, 2014 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  11. chanruss

    The Gov. knew and he order this lane closure for paybacks and he and all his staff needs to go to prison forever.

    January 10, 2014 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  12. MikeR


    " Benghazi where four Americans were killed "

    How about a look into that war with the wrong country, where over four thousand Americans were killed?

    January 10, 2014 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |

    OK, now there's no doubt – CHRISTIE ORDERED THE BRIDGE CLOSED.

    January 10, 2014 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  14. TN

    Obama and Hilary show lack of leadership and don't know how to accept responsibility for 4 dead in Benghazi. Then Obama is oblivious for numerous other scandals and does nothing for any of these problems. Then Obama lies about everything that has happened. At least Christie shows leadership and took immediate action when he found something wrong. That says a lot for his character. Obama is as worthless as travon martin.

    January 10, 2014 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  15. BBunsen

    "Capt Merica

    CNN, spend 1/2 the time you have on a closed bridge as you have on Benghazi or IRS scandal and you become a credible news source again someday."

    Yeah, like Fox News, Limbaugh, and Beck!

    January 10, 2014 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  16. BBunsen

    Actually, if the Port Authority had to close down lanes during rush hour in order to figure out that traffic jams would result, they should ALL be fired.

    A simple traffic count (or watching traffic for about 5 minutes) would have told them that.

    January 10, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  17. deadpossum

    I think I can give Christie the benefit of the doubt that he was unaware of the lane closures, I also think if that is true, it shows he lacks the leadership to control his underlings and is very naive and/or incompetent in appointing such people to positions of authority. Or maybe he is just an immature vindictive a hole. Either way I won't consider voting for him after this.
    Hard to understand how this was meant to hurt a mayor, when it was the NJ citizens that were the only ones going to suffer from the closures. You owe those people more than apologies Mr. Christie.

    January 10, 2014 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  18. Thorshammer

    So if Christie uses Chicago thug political practices it's wrong. It's ok if it's business as usual with the dems.
    What about Benghazi, the IRS shake down, Solyndra, Fast and Furious.
    Growing up with the Watergate scandal, and all the media hype, you know no one died over that, but it's ok to sweep Benghazi under the rug. Journalism is a joke these days.

    January 10, 2014 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  19. james

    You have it all wrong...it is all about District 37 and the Democratic chair and Christi calling both her and the senate democrats "animals" look at MSNBC Rachel Maddox show from last night and you will have a clearer picture of this whole agenda...it was because of the Supreme Court nominee and when taking office he refused to grant lifetime Supreme Court seat to a standing Democratic judge...He will be found to have been involved with this, you will see as the Talking Heads dig even deeper...

    January 10, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  20. Paul

    If the media would have taken this much time investigating the disaster called Obamacare, we might not have been in the mess we are in now. Where is the investigative journalism in Benghazi, IRS, NSA, fast and Furious. The media is no longer a credible force. They where given the freedom of the press but now have just become a mouth piece for both the Dems and Reps.

    January 10, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  21. Angry in Bergen County

    Foye sounds like the kind of guy that should be in the private sector. Anyone that can excoriate the politically processes and vow to make heads roll, is my kind of guy, He will never be successful doing this, but I appreciate the effort. There are far too many deadbeats, slackers and crooks in politics for a man or woman with high ethical standards to succeed.

    January 10, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  22. Steve

    I am surprised that the media is letting Christie off so easily.

    – For 100 days the governor insisted that the matter was BS and there was nothing to it. How did he conclude that? Did he not ask anyone about it or have just a little curiosity about how a massive three-day traffic jam on the state's most important bridge occurred?

    – This week he fired the woman responsible without even asking her what happened or why? "So Brigit, let me get this straight. You came in early one morning in August and just decided out of the blue to created the mother of all traffic jams in Fort Lee?"

    – I don't get the email between Brigit and the NJ Ports guy. She says Fort Lee needs a traffic jam, and he says "Got it" as if they talk about this all the time, and nobody thinks that's odd? A normal person might say something like "What are you talking about?" or "ha ha" or "Is this from the governor?" But this guy just says "Got it."

    – What really kills me is that he sees no connection saying his chief of staff should be attorney general when it was the staff that he was chief of that caused all this. Sheesh

    January 10, 2014 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  23. olorinstaff

    Looks like Christie is taking the Bridge to Nowhere.

    January 10, 2014 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  24. Thomas

    Gov. Chris Christie looks very worried !

    I don't think he can take the heat in the big kitchen .

    January 10, 2014 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  25. judith

    Christie's toast. He has no political future. I live in the Los Angeles area. If this happened here, they'd have the governor's head on a platter. Every time Christie plays dumb, it echoes Tricky Dick's "I am not a crook" moment. This miserable slimeball thought he could get by with it, but the truth caught up with him.

    January 10, 2014 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
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