January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
9 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. Jules

    And now we know that the closures were ordered the day after Christie blew up at the Dems in his state legislature for not approving two of his judicial appointees, one of whom was married to one of his closest friends. The majority leader of the NJ State House – the rep from the Fort Lee area. This just gets curiouser and curiouser.

    January 10, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  2. Really?

    What an incredible waste of time.

    January 10, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  3. Marty

    Blatantly obvious they are already cracking open the database Maxine Waters warned us about. "Obama has put in place a secret database with everything, on everyone." They are already working to cut the legs out from the best challengers that can defeat Hillary in 2016 and derail their agenda. So Christie may or may not have known about causing a traffic jam. Yeah, that rivals Benghazi, NSA surveillance, using the IRS on political foes, that sort of stuff.

    Say it with Hillary and I ~ at this point regarding the traffic jam, "WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?"

    January 10, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  4. O'drama ya Mama

    OHHH Im soo excitedd

    January 10, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  5. Nodack

    Hurry and get your digs in.

    January 10, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  6. just asking

    where is the thread on the disastrous jobs numbers that were just reported??? oh yeah, can't talk about that as it hurts the obama lie of there being a recovery.

    January 10, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  7. Jason Young Guy

    I may be proved wrong, and as a registered Independent, I do like Chris simply because of how he handled his people first and politics second against ridicule and scrootney during the Super Storm. I'm not a Republican or Democrat as I choose people based on their genuine character and actions, and just from what I've seen of Chris publicly he seems very genuine and really cares about his citizens.

    I just can't fathom he being knowingly involved in something so petty as a Mayor who didn't vote for him that he would consciously do something that would jeopardize his reputation and future career. Unfortunately he has to bear the front of his administrations errors, as does any CEO of a Company for his executives actions, but that doesn't mean they are guilty or involved. In my opinion.

    January 10, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  8. elucidated1

    The Democrats are just siitting back just watching the show

    January 10, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  9. conchytonker

    OK. Now when will the IRS Scandal, DoJ, Scandal, Benghazi Scandal, Fast and Furious Scandal, Obamacare Rollout Scandal, and numerous other scandal investigations begin?

    January 10, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  10. RayC

    Where was this kind of scrutiny on Benghazi? Seriously, some lane closures and the liberal media is going bananas. 4 Americans died on the other story and it was a complete cover up as to why we were there, why forces weren't sent in to help, why there was a "riot", etc..

    Was what the aides did ethical? No. At the same time, big freaking deal. You don't think there was some corruption here in IL when the Governor sent around crews to discuss whether they should expand I90 and add full interchanges, increase tolls, etc..? That was a sham.

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  11. noah lamson

    907 pages? Jeepers that's a lot of pages.

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  12. Robert Lemasters

    They believe themselves something special and powerful when they are elected to office and not employees of those who have elected them. As one big shot career politician said some years ago at a party in Ruxton Maryland, "being elected to public office is better then winning the lottery."

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  13. Atul C

    CNN is trying to find a fullstop or comma that could implicate Christie. Where is your investigation on Benghazi and NSA spying?

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  14. Double standard anyone

    It's amazing to see the how aggressively the main stream media is pursuing this "bridgegate" hubbub. Where was all this reviewing and digging to uncover the IRS scandal, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the list goes on but none of that stuff compares to a traffic jam.

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  15. Government Waste Rules

    Man CNN is really hoping there is some dirt in there.

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  16. Dan

    Sounds like CNN has too much time on their hands. I'm going to eat popcorn in my underwear! I win!

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  17. Dave

    So this is what "transparency" looks like. Heard a lot of talk about it, but like everything else in the Obama administration, it's just talk.

    January 10, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  18. ankenyman

    Wow, I wish CNN was this diligent when Obama was having all his scandals with IRS, Benghazi, Obamacare, etc.

    January 10, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  19. Von

    I can't wait to see what this is about.

    January 10, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  20. ankenyman

    Wow, I wish CNN was this diligent when Obama was having all his scandals like IRS, Benghazi, Obamacare lies, etc.

    January 10, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  21. Matt

    Fantastic article.

    January 10, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  22. hender1123

    This is terrible. If this were a trivial matter like Benghazi, Fast & Furious or using the IRS against political opponents that would be one thing but closing a bridge on ramp should absolutely disqualify Christie from holding any public office from the standpoint of the administration.

    January 10, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  23. chris

    cue the "Obama is worse" comments in 3..2..1..

    January 10, 2014 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  24. sev

    should woul be grea if you went back an dfact checked and spent this incredible amount of air time on your devoted to Hillary and Obama.

    January 10, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  25. Phil

    This is not news....that CNN is reviewing something....goodness gracious

    January 10, 2014 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
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