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. Matt

    There is nothing in these emails that implicate Christie whatsoever.

    January 10, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  2. Thomas

    How was Gov. Chris Christie to know Bruce Springsteen was stuck in the middle lane for 2 hours ?

    January 10, 2014 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  3. Wes

    Christie should have blamed a video for the 'spontaneous' closure of the bridge.

    January 10, 2014 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  4. Outraged Republican

    Once again CNN and the lamestream media shows it's bias. Look how how much space they have devoted to coverage of this non-story in which Christie had no part and no laws were broken. On the other hand Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich jaywalked and absolutely no mention. Imagine that, he blatantly disregarded the law endangering himself and the public and the lamestream media acts like it didn't even exist. He broke the law folks! That is much worse in some harmless little traffic re-routing prank in which no laws were broken.

    January 11, 2014 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  5. J.V.Hodgson

    OH duh we are all so stupid you cant do a traffic study either via CCTV in the day and age, or do it by having guys clicking counters and writing down registrations.
    Will the administration of governor Christie own up to their malicious act.... and will the straight talking Christie do what Republicans nationally demand of Obama all the time accept the US famous the " buck stops here " admission of responsibility" for senior politicians.
    Regards,
    Hodgson.

    January 11, 2014 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  6. PoliticiansREvil

    Fast and Furious, ObamaCare ACA, IRSgate, NSAgate, BENGHAZIgate, but a bridge is news again WHY CNN?

    January 11, 2014 02:21 am at 2:21 am |
  7. Patrice

    Why is there not a clear understanding and discussion by CNN and other news media pundits that this was an act of sabotage perpetrated directly against the American public, putting people in danger, and causing not only inconvenience but actual death due to negligence by blocking ambulances (despite whatever "spiteful" reason there might have been due to any perceived political disrespect by the Mayor toward Christie) and should be dealt with as a criminal action that is on the level of a terrorist act? It must be seen as a terrorist act perpetrated by our own elected officials and their entourage against the American public. Who would accept this sort of behavior and not prosecute this as anything other than a criminal terrorist act against the public if it were carried out by any regular person? Where are our ethics as a society not to call these politicians out for their lack of regard for the American public??? Why are we not outraged and taking action when elected officials are clearly not working on behalf of the people, rather they are working against them. Were they not elected to protect and serve? Why not call them out, impeach and prosecute them?

    January 11, 2014 04:28 am at 4:28 am |
  8. @RI_Roger

    Does this mean that after 4 years CNN will finally review the 2500 pages of the Obamacare legislation so we, the American taxpayer, will finally know what's in it?

    January 11, 2014 06:46 am at 6:46 am |
  9. rosethornne

    There seems to be a disturbing pattern of petty vindictiveness coming from the governor aimed toward people who thwarted him in some way.
    It's unfortunate, but his past behavior does not lead to a conclusion of innocence on his part.
    As for the mayor of the affected town not being familiar to the governor, perhaps that's because the whole mayor thing could be a deflection wherein he could genuinely and convincingly say he had no idea why anyone would target that mayor. Let's look closer: some of his judicial nominees were rejected. By whom, and where did one of the responsible persons live? Near "Lee" something near some sort of bridge perhaps...? Retaliating for blocking his nominees is certainly on par with some of his past petty vendettas.

    January 11, 2014 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  10. sifto

    hope cnn has learned their lesson–Christie is not only loved by lots of repubs–dems and independents like him as well...stop trying to find a scandal where none exists....

    January 11, 2014 07:29 am at 7:29 am |
  11. Marty, FL

    It defies credibility for Christie to claim he didn't know.

    The day prior on 9/12, Christie went on one of his angry bullying rants against the state senate (it's on tape), and the next morning at 7:34 AM his deputy chief of staff is ordering the traffic jam to willful reception from Christies's port authority...Got it.

    And where is the senate majority leader from? Fort Lee. There seems a lot more to this story to come out.

    Not to mention, this happened over four days on the week of 9/11 compromising security and public safety. Shameful abuse of power.

    January 11, 2014 07:38 am at 7:38 am |
  12. Gurgyl

    --it is like shutting down entire government to defund Obamacare, the need of this nation. GOP is so vulgar, pathetic..

    January 11, 2014 07:56 am at 7:56 am |
  13. Sniffit

    If there ever was a REAL nontroversy, this is it. Nobody has produced ANY evidence of Christie's involvement and knowledge of it. Lies and innuendo are not proof. The Democrats are running down the rabbit hole on this one.

    January 11, 2014 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  14. GODZILLA1

    Sorry but no one should be granted immunity, not even if they can implicate Christie.

    January 11, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  15. N Daley

    To Quote Gov. Christie, but ask the question of him- "What are you- STUPID?"

    January 11, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Venkat

    Pattern of abusing the power, political arrogance, ignorance of the needs of the common citizen, these are patterns and patents of the republicans and the right wing. I only wish the republicans will learn a hard lesson sooner than later. So long Gov Christie. You are what you are – a rich republican.

    January 11, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  17. Marcus (from...?)

    @ hefailed who said:
    '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.'

    Between your 'testimony' and the FACT the US National Park Service IS the one in charge of the management of the WWII Memorial (and of the National Mall fo that matter), which one will be considered more trustworthy?

    January 11, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  18. bill

    obama has a financial donor of his to head the investigation into IRS being used by obama as revenge and or control of the other party-wonder what the outcome will be??? why CNN does not report these kinds of criminal activities by obama??? did you know that almost all the groups IRS targeted have not even been contacted by the feds??? but the day after the bridge deal they "are on it" like CNN-wow.

    January 11, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Whoa here. Hold on Republicans. It's YOUR man ... YOUR wannabe presidential candidate who gave a 101 minute news briefing explaining "I heard nothing, I knew nothing, I saw nothing, and I know nothing" and you all come running to CNN to complain ABOUT CNN covering the scandal?

    If this scandal was good enough for Christie to play the victim and be given 101 minutes of air time to air his ignorance, it's good enough for CNN and other media outlets to continual to cover the story.

    What happens in New Jersey doesn't always stay in New Jersey.

    January 11, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  20. Thomas

    @Matt
    There is nothing in these emails that implicate Christie whatsoever.

    ====

    Matt , It's called a firewall , protect the Queen . Just the fact that Christie was out of the loop with what his two most trusted advisers where doing , say's much about Christies leadership skills . If a second or third officer runs a ship up on the reef , it's still the captain's responsibility ,

    January 11, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  21. Anonymous

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

    No. It looks as if Christie spent months saying "Don't tell me. Don't tell me. Don't tell". To himself, anyway. How he could NOT have known is the bigger question yet unanswered.

    January 11, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  22. Peace

    Folks don't be fooled by Christie. He knew everything. Why is he getting sleepless nights now? Is it because things are boiling up and each and everything will be known? Why didn't he get sleepless nights that time (4 days) when the lanes were closed?

    January 11, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  23. StephenR

    It's one thing for politicians to make mistakes. They all do, and often they take hell for even minor mistakes.

    It's quite another thing to PURPOSEFULLY make people suffer. That's why this story disgusts people so much.

    January 11, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  24. DC Observer

    Hillary Clinton would pray that there was no loss of life either....but, as she said on the Beghazi deaths , "At this point what does it matter?"

    January 11, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  25. DC Observer

    How many politicians does it take to create total gridlock and inaction?

    Three – Obama, Reid, and Pelosi.

    January 11, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
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