January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
8 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. Bubba

    Do you really think,......Humpdy Dumpdy....will fall???

    January 10, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. cw

    Charles2938, who is Chris Christy?

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

    "Amusing how much effort CNN seems willing to expend on this issue, compared to issues that come up on Obama."

    Right. CNN absolutely didn't have a couple hundred articles on the IRS, the ACA website, Benghazi, Fast & Furious, etc. They just totally ignored it all. Do you guys even listen to yourselves speak?

    January 10, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    dont you people have jobs

    January 10, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  5. Roger Korby

    The MSM and print media are now hellbent on destroying Christie for 2016 like they did to Herman Cain. Meanwhile they will continue to protect Hillary all that they can like they have Pres. Obama.

    January 10, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  6. Republiker

    This is a scandal only to the democrat Freeloader Party members. It's a dead story to the rest of America.

    January 10, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  7. Bonnie

    Same old trolls off topic and spewing filth. At least nobody is bashing the Jewish population that I surely thought I would encounter in here once I read Cuomos email.

    January 10, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  8. Independent

    The last words Bridget Anne heard as she walked out the door was "it would be a real shame if something might happen to those wonderful kids of yours."

    January 10, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  9. John Illinois

    Hey CNN!!!! How come you did not want to investigate all the information regarding NSA, IRS, Benghazi, Obama and his liberals lying, etc.?!?! This needs to be investigated also, but how come you never investigate a darn thing when it is in regards to Obama the "Food Stamp president"?

    January 10, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  10. Sergeant

    Benghazi... hmm, I wonder where I heard about that? I don't watch fox news, in fact I only watch CNN and I know more than I need to know about Benghazi. Now, I want to know about bridgegate.

    January 10, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  11. Namelinda

    All politicians are involed in some form of corruption one way or another. I don't think anyone can critique Gov. Christie especially his own party. The rich and powerful got to be as such by crooked means and bribes. This is the game of politics.

    January 10, 2014 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  12. Ric

    Operation Slow and Furious ..

    January 10, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  13. 54StarryNights

    I have to amend my previous comments. It was the Wall Street Journal and not the New York Times that reported that Christie called Cuomo on December 12 asking him to pressure the head of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority to back off on investigating the lane closures on the bridge.

    January 10, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  14. mike

    first of all, forget this benghazi nonsense. second, it seems to me unconscionable that someone would deliberate close lines of traffic, punishing so many people, in spite. i consider it an act of terrorism. i thought i actually liked christie, but maybe i was wrong. he has to be somewhat responsible for this, directly. stick a fork in him.

    January 10, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  15. Lynda/Minnesota

    Hey. Did FOX News run some sort of propaganda informercial suggesting only THEY covered Mr. Ben Gazhi, IRS, Obamacare, and God only knows whatever other talking points these fools are talking about here on the ticker?

    If so, it isn't very nice of FOX to send them out into the real world to repeat FOXs parroting techniques. Makes them all look extremely foolish and uninformed.

    January 10, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  16. scarf

    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
    ===========================================================================================
    If you read the transcript between Clinton and Sen. Johnson, you'll see that she was actually upset that Sen. Johnson didn't seem to take the deaths of the 4 Americans to be as serious as his feeling that he had been misled into believing that the assault was the result of a bad movie. When she said, "What difference does it make?" she was referring to the spark that caused the attack. Her very next sentence was, "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again."

    January 10, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  17. rick

    New Jersey state political system is a sewer of corruption. Even if the top sewer rat is clean "today" ... how did he get to the top and who are the sewer rats he will take with him to the White House if he goes? This country has to be nuts sourcing its presidential candidates from a sewer like the New Jersey state government.

    January 10, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  18. atty23

    Really, "It Must Be Said"? According to you, Hillary Clinton has "blood on her hands." How about the THOUSANDS of people who died on 9-11 when Bush was warned that planes would be used in a terrorist attack? Who has blood on their hands? Don't even get me started about the Iraqi War. You are a complete idiot.

    January 10, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  19. doug

    Anyone who relates Benghazi to this is shooting off their toe to spite their foot. The Republican cry about Benghazi is that Susan Rice announced "no Al Qaeda" connection before she knew the facts and was spitting out "talking points." So how is Christie spitting out "my administration was not involved" in traffic problem" when he didn't investigate anything not the same thing? They can't have it both ways. Either Obama and Rice did nothing at all, or both are wrong and should be punished. Of course, the problem then is, Rice and Obama were CORRECT! Christie was lying.

    January 10, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  20. Jon

    Well, that's one of only two Republicans I would vote for in 2016, guess we can scratch him off the list. All in all, the GOP doesn't stand a chance in the next few years. The only downside is that now it's pretty much a done deal that we will be under Democrat control for the next 4 to 6 years. I can only hope and pray to god that they don't do anything foolish. Perhaps we'll see a better put together GOP in 2020.

    January 10, 2014 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  21. Brandon

    If you'll would step on over from Fox News from time to time you'd know that CNN did cover the Obamacare rollout issues, Benghazi, etc... Just because they didn't beat the living daylights out of that dead horse Benghazi "controversy" like that other station doesn't mean they didn't cover it.

    January 10, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  22. That Man

    Do you know how many Americans died at various embassy/related attacks around the globe when Bush was president? Way more than 4. So relax with the Benghazi crap clearly the Republicans are desperately trying to keep that "scandal" afloat to undermine Hilary in '16. And all those senate hearings on Benghazi, are we forgetting about that? You clowns just post whatever will suit your political fancy regardless of facts. "Some lane closures"? People died because EMT couldn't get through. Schoolbuses were 2.5 hours late on the first day of school. 9/11 remembrances disrupted because of the closures. No this is not the end of the world, but I think it is an accurate reflection of how Christie does his business. He is a vindictive bully of a politician. And if he didn't directly order the lane closures, then he has shockingly little control over his people. And i find it hard to believe he would be ignorant of large-scale lane closures on one of the busiest bridges in the world, in his state, for a week straight. Especially after all the press it got back in September, he didn't think to dig deeper into the growing traffic disaster? And he still hadn't as of 2 days ago? Its either misuse of power or extremely poor governing. Either way, he's a clown.

    January 10, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  23. Bob n

    I believe fox news missed this entire story. oh wait I know, to them it is a non issue so it does not need to be reported.

    January 10, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  24. Jarhead4life

    This whole thing is hilarious. Come to Chicago, our damn freeways are always 'under construction' 365 days a year with miles of barricades, orange cones and single lanes – with not a damn person working anywhere. I guess this was a big problem because it was a Jewish holiday ???

    January 10, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  25. James Haddow

    I just want to say that this is a rediculous play by Democrats to make a big deal that traffic was snarled for a few days and they think this is some big crisis. Get a life. If the same was done in Chicago, say on the Chicago Skyway it would just be listed as another day in Chicago Style Politics. There is no comparison to the silence of the Obama administration where real people died. This bridge gate is simply nothing but a ruse by the Democrats to try to besmirch a real person who tells it like it is and the Dems are scared that he might take away their Hillary from the President.

    January 10, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
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