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. Jim

    Wow! Many times more coverage of these lane closures than all of the coverage CNN did on Benghazi, the IRS retribution against conservatives, the success of Obamacare, Obama's broken promises about your coverage, etc, etc, etc. CNN, you really need to drop the term "news" in your name. Your obviously just a political arm for your beloved POTUS. Pathetic does not begin to describe the poor job you do as so called "journalists". Turns my stomach...

    January 10, 2014 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  2. Igor

    as of 24 hours after the Christie "scandal" broke, the big three MSM outlets (CBS, ABC, NBC) had devoted 17 times more air minutes to it than they devoted to 0-bama's IRS scandal IN A PERIOD OF 6 MONTHS. Zero's scandal involved IRS operatives deliberately harassing and attempting to dis-enfranchise their political opponents. In the worst possible interpretation, Christie's henchman tried to tick off a bunch of motorists against their Democrat Party mayor who's re-election is inevitable.

    When the Christie non-scandal broke, he apologized. When Zero's IRS scandal broke, everybody in his mis-Admin from greatest to least either lied or took the 5th.

    January 10, 2014 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  3. RJD

    Rides in on a white house? white horse, maybe? CNN typo or was that the original email? If so, correct with (sic). “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.”

    January 10, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  4. Bubba

    If one thing links him prior to 2days ago....

    It will be ...Chris...Crispy.... hrs done.

    January 10, 2014 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  5. HeyHey

    Hey, what do you think using the power of the federal government to suppress your domestic political opposition to win a election dose for safety?

    January 10, 2014 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  6. CRF

    The only thing I care about is if Christie knew. Accusing Christie of negligence because of something his aides did and kept from him was like in 2008 when people said Obama was anti-American due to Reverend Wright. Christie owned up to the problems his aides made, but you can't attack him personally for causing it. Yes of course he is responsible for what goes on under his administration, he said that, but the man himself is unscathed. So unless I see that smoking gun of evidence, which does not seem to exist (in fact most of this stuff is supporting what Christie said regarding there actually being a traffic study) then I still think he is as honest as he was before.

    January 10, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  7. Michael

    If Chris Christie was aware of this situation he is not fit to be Governor of New Jersey. If Chris Christie was unaware of what was going on in his own Administration, he is not fit to be Governor, less fit to be President. He lost his chance, should move on and be a commentator for FOX, and he might offer some insight into the Clinton vs. Bush 2016 Rematch.

    January 10, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  8. Annie

    I'm not an idiot... but I think this article is very confusing. It's a detailed account of who sent what emails... I read on and on and ON, until I didn't know what the heck was happening or who did what or what any of it meant. IS THERE A SUMMARY OF THIS SOMEWHERE??

    What is the point of this article? I'd like the Short version please. It's Friday night, after along hard week, and I'm not in the mood to figure this out. Besides, I think you'd need a spreadsheet and an analyst to figure out what's going on.

    January 10, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  9. Donald George MacDonald

    “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”
    ― Sophocles, Antigone

    January 10, 2014 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  10. Johny

    Christie's office must be in a concrete bunker with a 3 foot steel door and no lines of communication. Therefore he knows nothing about what is going on around him!!!!

    January 10, 2014 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  11. Ivan Ivanovich

    Forget this nonsense about bridge traffic. I found a more interesting article. People are calling for the impeachment of Mayor De Blasio of New York City, because he doesn't eat pizza according to the manners and traditions of New Yorkers. This is scandalous and a great concern to 10 million people.

    January 10, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  12. Tony

    The right-wingers on this blog are jealous. They do not understand why it is so much easier for the media to find evidence in Christie's scandal, while nothing ever comes out of the various scandals surrounding the Obama Administration. Hint: it is much easier to find evidence in real scandals, unlike imaginary ones.

    January 10, 2014 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  13. Lee

    What a bunch of noise about nothing.

    Over the nine hours the Ft Lee on ramp toll went from 3 lanes to 1, only 2100 cars were impacted. Not many compared with the over 35000 cars that now had an extra two toll lanes to use.

    The entire plan was to see if the toll boths could be better utilized, rather than having 3 booths for 2100 cars and 10 booths for 35000 cars. The Ft Lee booth average around 700 cars per 9 hours of morning commute. The other booths average 3500 cars.

    Seems like the smart idea was to try and take one or two of the Ft Lee booths and give them over to the rest of the people. According to the records on the first day there was a school bus accident on the GWU and that is what caused the most problems. The three day test resulted in faster commute times for everyone else. What's the problem.

    January 10, 2014 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  14. rehabmax

    Maybe "Da Govna" called Tony Sporano on this one. No way the aide thought of this on her own. Christie wanted some payback against Fort Lee. Who knows if other Democratic mayors were subtly targeted also. The fun is just starting.

    January 10, 2014 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  15. Rembrant

    I am a dem/liberal/whateveryouwannacallme and I like Christie. He is pretty much the only Repub that I know of that's actually doing his job. If he really wasn't involved he will survive this. I hope he survives and other Repubs learn what a public servant should be doing for a living.

    January 10, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  16. Matthew Cook

    To benghazi conspiracists: This is what real proof looks like. This is the definition of a smoking gun. You know like thousands of dead and thousands of injured soldiers in Iraq on a lie: NO WMD.

    January 10, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  17. Paul Gold

    So it has now been proved Chris Christie advocated and approved David Wildstein's resignation speech over these bridge closures back at the beginning of DECEMBER? What happened to "I just found out about it yesterday????" This guy's entire political career just went down the drain. Shame..

    January 10, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  18. tebaho

    this is getting out of hand. how about swapping Dennis Rodman for Christie? Christie can tough-talk Jong, and Rodman can pretend he knows what's happening in NJ, because Christie says he's clueless.

    January 10, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  19. Mike D.

    Anybody here who is using the logic that some how Obama was doing the same thing as Christy are delusional. Obama didn't purposely make the ACA not work to pay some body back. Obama didn't purposely make a group of crazies attack in Bengazi. Obama didn't tell the NSA to go after every Americans records to get back at some body. Christies people PUPOSELY went after democrats in Fort Lee for a some kind of payback.

    January 10, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  20. gonzo

    Finally found something to take the subject off of Obama's sordid health care fiasco, eh, CNN??

    January 10, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  21. hefailed

    pdq – There are no "park service officers" at the WWII memorial...least, not when I was there 2 years ago. No entrance or exit gate, no entry fee, no guides, no nothing. We can call it anything we want including a government shut down, but in the end, it was nothing more than revenge by the Obama administration.

    January 10, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  22. Matt

    The media is such a joke. Where were all this live updates when the IRS or Benghazi scandals were happening.

    January 10, 2014 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  23. Dan

    It seems pretty clear that the "traffic study" was a cover to shut down traffic. The fact that "preliminary results" were reported in is obviously a complete joke.

    January 10, 2014 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  24. Independent Thinker

    It is looking more an more like Christie was not personally involved. However, it looks like more heads are going to roll.

    January 10, 2014 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  25. Tom

    There were a bunch of other names on those emails who knew about this and blacked out...at least 4. I would imagine we protect the top dogs at all cost.

    January 10, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
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