January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
3 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. PaulCat

    Yea, Christie did it.
    (2016)

    January 10, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  2. it must be said

    I wonder why CNN had no interest in digging into Hillary Clinton's involvement and actions when 4 American died in Benghazi???

    January 10, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  3. himanshur9

    do you mind sharing the link so we can also "dig" and read.
    We know from last time how well you read the supreme court verdict on health care!

    January 10, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  4. Andy

    Who cares. CNN should be so detailed with NSA,IRS, AP, Fast & Furious, Benghazi, ObamaCare, You can keep your Doctor, etc, etc,

    January 10, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  5. Steve1959

    Amazing how journalistic CNN has become all the sudden. Too bad they couldn't do that on a federal level.

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

    Christie's defense seems to be that he just didn't know about any of the bad things that were happening because no one told him. This is very similar to Obama's excuses with some of his screwups. If the Republicans like Christie's excuses, they should be loving Obama's.

    January 10, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  7. tom

    I just downloaded them... and Yes... its True!!!! Obama lied about the IRS... Benghazi....And when he realized his Healthcare website was not working!!!!

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

    It's a shame CNN didn't take as much time on the Benghazi scandal, or the IRS scandal. Oh wait, those happened to liberal Democrats. CNN, NBC, ABC, MSNBC won't report much on those if anything.

    January 10, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. betterdays

    Wish you'd put the same effort into reading the ACA. That affects a few more people.

    January 10, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  10. JDSoCal

    If only CNN looked into Benghazi, AP-gate, IRS abuse, or Obamacare as closely.

    January 10, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  11. 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. Again I'm not a Republican or Democrat as I choose people based on their genuine character and public actions, and just from what I've seen of Chris publicly he seems very genuine and really cares about his citizens and doesn't seem to have a character of vindictive aggression.

    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 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  12. The Catskinner

    As a former journalist, one of my old age hobbies is picking out liars on CNN and I've been hard at play since yesterday with the very entertaining Christie Bridge screwup. If the governor is NOT telling the truth, he is a very accomplished liar but has left himself no room to maneuver, much like Custer at Little Bighorn. A simple email from his dentist asking if he needs some bridge work could do him in. It ain't over til the fat man sings.

    January 10, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  13. The Truth

    Geez ... another fake scandal cooked up by the libbies. Build a bridge and get over it.

    January 10, 2014 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  14. MCFx

    Look at CNN! Investigative Reporting! All of a sudden CNN Reporters start "digging" and coming up with "smell tests". Is this Fast & Furious where an American agent died with one of our own guns? Nope! AP Wiretapping of Journalists emails and their home phones by the Obama Admin? Nope! IRS hassling conservative groups during an elections year? Nope! Benghazi where an Ambassador was murdered along with 3 other former military...during an election year? Nope! A Closed Bridge by a popular Republican front runner? YEP! BINGO! Get your sneakers CNN reporters and hit the pavement. It's time to dig!

    January 10, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  15. bill

    obama now admits terror groups were the cause of Benhgazi--more lies on top of lies. Remember IT WAS THE VIDEO–YOU CAN KEEP YOUR INSURANCE--NOBODY TOLD ME-when do we get this president impeached??? Nixon told one lie and gone-38 lies just on obamacare and now "admit" to the fact it was terrorist group??? WE HAD TROOPS KILLED IN BENGHAZI--AND LIES TO WIN THE ELECTION.

    January 10, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  16. sly

    "I am not a crook ... I was misfed"

    January 10, 2014 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  17. Steve

    Really??? CNN should have spent 1/10 the time on any of Obama's scandals and crimes.

    January 10, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  18. Kris in AL

    The way the media is all over this you would think a US Ambassador was killed.

    January 10, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "where is the thread on the disastrous jobs numbers that were just reported??? "

    Lower down on the Ticker because one article is sufficient to report something unless there's been an update or a change or new information to add to it. None of that has occurred. But hey, if you'd like, we can all just keep posting the facts that help show that 4th quarter economic slowdown was indeed caused by the GOP/Teatrolls' behavior in shutting down the gov't, threatening the debt ceiling, etc. Would you like that?

    January 10, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  20. bwake7

    Is that even English? I cannot comprehend what this latest update is actually saying

    January 10, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  21. Roxy

    900 pages and they will print whatever leads you to think its a republican retaliation

    January 10, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. David

    I am sure most of the e-mails are Christie's breakfast and lunch orders.

    January 10, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  23. John

    The papers reveal a link between the staffer and al-Queda.

    January 10, 2014 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. Really

    You have spent more time on this then you have on the Benghazi cover up

    January 10, 2014 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  25. Peter

    No mention was made of the two officials who suddenly resigned about 6 weeks ago. Were they culpable to Bridgegate? Why did they suddenly resign? I am not sure if Governor Christi had any previous knowledge of their actions but it seems more people knew about it than we have been told so far.

    January 10, 2014 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
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