January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
6 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. 54StarryNights

    According to a report in the New York Times, Christie knew about this before he said he did. He contacted Cuomo on December 12 asking him to pressure the head of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority to back off from investigating the traffic tie ups related to the lane closure on the bridge.

    January 10, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  2. MCFx

    Hi m0derat0rs! How about allowing my posts on CNN's hard hitting investigative reporting?

    January 10, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  3. Malory Archer

    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?

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

    You must have been in a coma for the last few years. All the so-called "Obama scandals" you listed have been investigated to death by car thief issa and his rightwing witch hunt committe, and they came up with nothing but egg on their faces.

    January 10, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  4. Observer

    Obama scandal CNN does nothing. Christie scandal CNN loses their mind. Typical.

    January 10, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  5. ljabarr

    Abuse of power at it's finest.

    January 10, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  6. tednugent'sdiapers

    Can't wait to hear the sound of the chains sliding across the floor as Christie shuffles out of the courtroom on his way to prison!

    January 10, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  7. Atoadaso

    All this coverage over down time on a road, while be are being robbed by Corporate America? The news ain't what is used to be. if you can call it "news."

    January 10, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  8. Malory Archer

    ahab

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

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

    You must have been in a coma for the last few years. All the so-called "Obama scandals" you listed have been investigated to death by car thief issa and his rightwing witch hunt committe, and they came up with nothing but egg on their faces.

    January 10, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  9. Unknowian

    I truly hope that Christie comes up clean in this mess. Not because I would have voted for him in 2016, but because the emails to screw up traffic were so "Grammar School", I would be so disappointed that any elected Governor would have condoned the idea. If he is guilty and knew of the plan to obstruct traffic, my faith in US Government.....no matter what the party is now nonexistent.

    January 10, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  10. Arya Bagherpour

    Amusing how much effort CNN seems willing to expend on this issue, compared to issues that come up on Obama. Thank you for once again proving you are nothing more than a bunch of propagandists.

    January 10, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  11. 54StarryNights

    I hat it when CNN inflicts this lame comments section format on us. I think they do it when they want to discourage discussion and, of course, likes and dislikes.

    January 10, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  12. it must be said

    Hillary Clinton has blood on her hands and CNN goes wild with this BS when there is not one single shred of evidence that Christie was involved or knew about it. And then you allow all the wild insane posters in here posting made up stuff, wild accusations based on their hate filled political leanings. Did you ever occur to you CNN that you are engaging in character assassination as well as aiding it?

    January 10, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  13. Old West

    What a joke..Fast & Furious and Benghazi?..lol...Why don't you republicans do something positive...It has been confirmed that Issa, Fox News and CBS are liars...

    January 10, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  14. Arickzona

    Laughable CNN. Have you even thought of doing this level of research on events surrounding Our President and his cabinet? Me thinks not, and me thinks this automatically invalidates this research. No wonder you are reduced to determining if wee-wee (Your term, not mine) freezes in sub zero temps.

    January 10, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  15. VJ

    Benghazi lovers... That is not scandal at all.. Do u all know there is no connection between Benghazi and Al Qaeda... We had 13 Benghazi incidents happened during W term we moved on... We never complain about that... Moreover Conservatives denied additional funding for security in all our embassy and consulate. Conservatives live in Benghazi world... Christie is in big trouble......

    January 10, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  16. Charles2938

    USA media: GUILTY FELONY STALKING AND DEFIMINATION OF CHARACTER

    The USA media is guilty of criminally stalking Chris Christy and defaming his character. Esentially the USA media is master bully serving as judge and jury condemning their political enemy Chris Christy.

    January 10, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    "Where was this kind of scrutiny on Benghazi? "

    It was 100% unavoidable. The MSM, CNN and its 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 one of them 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 in a bath salts coma.

    January 10, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  18. Tony

    Conchytonker, Issa started working on those investigations a long time ago. As soon as Issa finds evidence of any wrongdoing or coverup of wrongdoing he will let people know.

    January 10, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  19. Roger Korby

    By all means, investigate this story. I just wish those at CNN had the same zeal and enthusiasm for investigating the Benghazi matter and the IRS scandal. That's called objectivity.

    January 10, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  20. JC

    This just keeps getting funnier. The Cuomo boys (Andrew and Chris) are determined as ever to make Christie out to be the demon of traffic and congestion. This morning Chris actually said, "the difference between this scandal and Benghazi is that this is actually a scandal." I'm not sure, but I think the left is scheduling a press conference where they will announce a presidential investigation into wether or not Christie had a donut while the congestion took place. This is getting serious. If Christies staff had done something like sell guns to Mexican drug cartels, then I think he's be ok. That's not near as bad as causing traffic. If Christie becomes president whose to say he won't cause traffic in every major liberal city?

    January 10, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  21. Independent_Joe

    Partisans say stupid things and are blinded by their emotional connection to the ideology. Christie was refreshing, authentic and patient during that almost 2 hour news conference. He helped himself for 2016. The American people are attracted to authenticity and Christie has it in spades. I am for a Clinton-Christie ticket in 2016. These two could get something done for the moderate center and stop all of the far right and far left BS that we regular, normal people endure on a regular basis. Like the BS above about all the things CNN didn't cover.

    January 10, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  22. Wasted Time

    Why do we care about this?

    January 10, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  23. upset New YoRK

    Robert Durando, general manager of the George Washington Bridge should go to Jail along with some others

    January 10, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  24. john

    A+ to CNN for diving into this. Many news agencies are afraid to state the obvious for fear of backlash. I'll be paying attention to this story.

    January 10, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  25. Chris Christie

    Is the pizza here yet?!
    - Chris Christie

    January 10, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
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