January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
7 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. ahab

    When is the Obama scandals like fast and furious and the Benhazi scandal study going to be released?

    January 10, 2014 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    "Where was this kind of scrutiny on Benghazi? "

    All over the place. The MSM, CNN and it's Ticker and every newspaper in the country reported constantly about it, reported every idiot bobblehead pundit's opinion about it, drooled over the hearings and paperwork that was produced, filled their pants over every tidbit of video footage they could obtain of it, plastered pictures of the compound all over their front pages and 60 Minutes even ran and hyped a story from some guy who turned out to be lying about the entire thing. If you missed it, you must've been busy snorting ketamine.

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

    we had soldiers killed in benghazi and cnn supported obama-remember the debate with cheeseburger candy defending obama??? IT WAS A VIDEO. Now obama admits it was a terrorist (s) group. How many lies until obama is impeached????? clinton-lied about soldiers killed and says "it doesn't make any difference" and christie closes a bridge ????? cnn you are living up to your liberal left wing joseph goebbels reporting. shame

    January 10, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  4. JYAn

    Rabid dogs literally foaming at the mouth. Just like they reacted on Benghazi, IRS, and every other OB lie. Great to have media that dig like this! Go MSM!

    January 10, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  5. Johnny 5

    CNN is trying to shed more light on this scandal? Christie will come out of this looking like Dudley Do-Right if thats the fact.

    January 10, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  6. Don R

    If you really listened yesterday Christie said that he learned about the emails on Wednesday morning after his workout but later he said that he lost sleep for the past TWO nights, HMMMMM!!! Just another LYING POLITICAN?????? Trust him,, I THINK NOT!!!!!!!

    January 10, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  7. Starflyer

    elucidated1
    The Democrats are just siitting back just watching the show...

    You think? The liberal media is hoping to put a stake in Christie's heart right now. In '16, all this will be a distant memory, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". I watched Chis Matthews (Hard Ball) and one would think he was talking about "WaterGate"!!! The blowhard couldn't contain his glee and what he calls his outrage.

    January 10, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  8. david saint

    lol Marty, you can say Benghazi, IRS, NSA etc all you want son..the fact is, the right didnt care at ALL when Bush was doing the same, or worse (hello, Patriot act, Pat Tillman, 13 embassy's attacked, USS Cole, Valerie Plame Wilson, IRS going after Greenpeace/black churches/NAACP for speaking out against the wars, 9-11, WMD lies, etc)..so, spare us the faux outrage. Further, the right even called anyone who questioned the above mentioned issues "traitors"..then started in on Obama before he even took office! again, spare us the faux outrage.

    January 10, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  9. scarf

    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.
    ========================================================================================
    Actually, it hurts the House Republican contention that people don't want jobs because they can collect unemployment instead. The House Republicans got what they wanted by ending long-term unemployment, but people are still dropping out of the job market in droves. Much more of this and the House Republicans will give Obama the opportunity to brag about the lowest unemployment rate in decades....

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

    Really? With all that is wrong with the world CNN has to obsess over this? Did CNN just purchase the National Enquirer? Buh bye CNN.

    January 10, 2014 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  11. daniel

    CNN is one of the most bias networks out there.

    January 10, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  12. ug

    This isn't an issue...the lib media wants to throw you off the back of ovomit and this country...what ever happens in NJ is nothing compared to how the libs have screwed this country over...

    January 10, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  13. sly

    "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"
    ======
    Yep – the Governor is held responsible, just like football coaches get canned when their teams go 2-14. Christie just went 2-14. He lost. He has now been fired, more or less.

    And who cares if this scandel is as important as others. I don't even care that much if they continue to investigate. But I am sure happy that Christie is toast. Done. Stick a fork in him. No one will ever believe the Obese Bully. "Run for President"? Fat Chance!

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

    LOL @ the Beghazi obsessed buffoons whining in these comments. The only scandal there was the one made up by Fox News and 60 minutes.

    January 10, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  15. Malory Archer

    steve

    So what? Is this the best Dems can do to try and derail a presidential candidate? Benghazi anyone?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    It ain't just the dems babe – many in his own party have raised their own questions. That being said, Benghazi was thoroughly investigated by car thief issa and his rightwing witch hunt committee, and after spending months and millions of dollars overturning rocks and creating their own narratives in an effort to bring down the President, there's still no "there" there.

    January 10, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  16. Mike

    It's funny how CNN makes a huge deal over Christie but gives Obama a pass! I wish Obama were a stand up guy like Christie!

    January 10, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  17. Bob

    Yawn. Yeah, this is certainly more important than Obamacare or IRS targeting of Obama enemies, CNN.

    January 10, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  18. Socrates

    Christie: Guilty as sin. There is no needs for more apologies.

    January 10, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  19. kl

    in the words of Hillary...what difference does it make.........

    January 10, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  20. scarf

    Why are Republicans so upset about Fast and Furious? Guns don't kill people, right?

    January 10, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  21. Ted

    Shame CNN hasn't put this much effort into other issues that have been impacting all of America for the last 6 years. No offence CNN, but thinking this is worth your time over the issues you ignore is kind of an embarrassment actually.

    January 10, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  22. Reggie53

    Why don't we see these headlines saying "Breaking News" when it is an Obama scandal? Obama has had enough scandals but they are always downplayed. Why is that??? Is it because CNN is afraid they will be called racists if they actually report them as they should?????? Having this black president has really gotten everybody tiptoeing around afraid to say too much against him because of his color. But I suppose it is okay to rage over the republicans because they are mostly "white".

    January 10, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  23. Wolf Blitzer

    We have our best people working on it. Contractors that is.

    January 10, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  24. Oh Brother

    The republican response: Yeah, but Hillary/Obama is worse!!!11!!1

    The tea bagger response: This is nothing compared to the time he cooperated with Obama, he was already dead to us anyhow!!!!11!

    January 10, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  25. Herewe Goagain

    I'm finding it hard to care about a lane closure. Its not like he send guns to Mexican drug lords, or is using the IRS to target his political foes. Call me when he actually does something like that.

    January 10, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
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