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. Jackson

    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

    _____________

    Reagan committed High Treason in Iran/Contra.

    Bush Jr lied to Congress to get them to vote for a war, in which he and his cronies committed war crimes.

    Did you call for Reagan to be impeached? Did you call for Bush Jr to be impeached?

    Of course not, because you couldn't care one frickin' bit about the articles of impeachment. You are just interested in playing your own petty little BS partisan games.

    What a big steaming pile of hypocrisy.

    January 10, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  2. GWJr

    All these people complaining about "left wing" media not investigating the manufactured scandals of the Republicans can stuff it. They're just upset that their "investigations" turned out to be a much ado about nothing. Face it Repubs, your Messiah got caught red-handed committing a felonious act by using the electoral office of the Governor to wield it. We see over and over Republicans just can't govern worth a damn. Losers.

    January 10, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  3. tgenazi

    Are you kidding me our incompitent leader is destroying this country by leaps and bounds and all CNN reports on is some traffic problems. Such one sided reporting. CNN and all news media should get their heads out of their asses and report the truth about this crap government of ours!!!

    January 10, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  4. Gurgyl

    Listen, I don't give darn hoot for Benghazi–it is not USA, NJ is in USA. Don't be stupid. Women is killed in NJ, not in Benghazi. Nor in fast and furious. This big fat NJ boy is bully.

    January 10, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  5. Noah Fense

    I wonder if Democrats would get upset if President Obama was using the government to retaliate against his political opponents. Oh wait...

    January 10, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  6. That Man

    And VJ great point, the Republicans refused extra funding for security at our embassies. One could argue it is more their fault than Hilary's. Also, when Ambassadors leave Embassies they do so at their own discretion. It was the Ambassador's prerogative to leave the safety of the embassy and he knew the risks. Democrats won't say this because it isn't politically correct to lay blame on a dead American. Conservatives are so narrow-minded they pull various facts together, ignore evidence that points against their view, get all spun up by the Fox News slander and run with an issue. Even though its a non-issue. But you cannot tell them that.

    January 10, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Odd, how an article on possible criminal activity, lives being disrupted over "pay back" tactics, children left on
    school buses probably scared and definitely needing "relief", is just a joke to some who can't accept that
    "one of theirs" might just be a little off the mark in honesty.

    And, of course, none of you ever needed EMS services...... if not, when you do and they can't get
    to you because of pettiness........bet you won't be to happy.

    So, keep droning on about something even your "hero" Issa can't prove and stay stupid.

    January 10, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  8. Scott

    His real shame is his Body Mass Index.

    I would love if he pulled this card.

    Instant Vote from me.

    Ya'll picking on me because I'm Fat.

    God Bless the USA!

    January 10, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  9. Cassandrina

    Difficult to believe that this is making major news in left wing media in both USA and UK. Duh!
    No it isn't as CNN like the BBC in UK is left wing and Obamarama is a deity who can do no bad.
    I must agree with a previous entry that the comment format for CNN is so 19th century.

    January 10, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  10. Tampa Tim

    My God! You right wingnuts really are misinformed about the faux scandals that the insane right has created. Fox is not your friend, as the alleged scandals against the president are figments of their hate filled imagination.

    January 10, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  11. Jackson

    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?

    ____________

    Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rove et al have WAY more blood on their hands from war crimes committed in the Iraq war.

    How much reporting did FOX do on those war crimes in relation to how much time they spent roasting the Clintons?

    I.O.I.Y.A.R., right?

    January 10, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  12. bowelmovement

    Breaking News.... cnn completely ignored this same situation when Obama did it

    January 10, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  13. Organic1

    He has used his only get out of trouble card now, if the traffic gets bogged down it is going to cause an entirely new set of hearings.

    January 10, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  14. Steve

    If he is found guilty, the people are going to expect Christie to be prosecuted the same way as if a non political citizen caused this. Will will except nothing less than that.

    January 10, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  15. mindstorms

    Using e-mail to discuss or plan a stupid action is beyond belief. It's like a burglar leaving footprints in the snow leading police directly to the criminal. One would think these "intelligent" people would use a bit of common sense but then again common sense really isn't that common.

    January 10, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  16. Jackson

    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???

    _____________

    I wonder why FOX News never bothered to investigate Bush's war crimes in the Iraq war.

    I.O.I.Y.A.R., that's why.

    January 10, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  17. Jack

    Here's what CNN, MSNBC should exposed more.
    -Fast and Furious Scandal
    -Benghazi
    -IRS Scandal

    January 10, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  18. MCFx

    What does it say about an organization that has already spent 10 times as much print and airtime on a "bridge closure scandal" by a Governor from New Jersey in the first two days then they have about any ONE of the scandals by a President of the most powerful nation in the world that involved personal liberties violations, wiretapping, dead Ambassadors, dead agents, dead former special ops, IRS "bullying", etc.

    January 10, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  19. Yakobi

    Wouldn't it be nice if the left-leaning media put this much attention on REAL scandals that affect ALL Americans, like Benghazi, Fast & Furious, the IRS targeting groups, etc.

    Notice how they give Obama a pass every time he claims no foreknowledge of the incidents leading up to a scandal, but when a republican says the same thing, they characterize it as "creating a culture" of reprehensible behavior, and they "can't believe Christie didn't know". They're such blatant hypocrites, it's sickening.

    Meanwhile, the American public is still waiting for anything to come of the numerous Holder "investigations" (read: cover-ups) into all the scandals on Obama's watch. Too bad we won't find out the truth until a republican wins the White House.

    January 10, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  20. Peekay

    this is a real Rosann Rosanascandal

    January 10, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  21. Plutocracy Politician

    Jewish holiday, aka payday cause money is so important to them. That's why payday is on Fridays and the Sabbath starts at sundown.

    January 10, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  22. john

    Too bad CNN didn't investigate Benghazi like this.

    January 10, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  23. Jackson

    The Truth

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

    ___________

    A "Bridge To Nowhere", maybe?

    Fake scandal, you mean like Whitewater? I wonder if Congress will spend 30 million looking into this like they spent looking into Whitewater.

    I.O.I.Y.A.R.

    January 10, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  24. Truth

    CNN is working tirelessly to get to the bottom of this traffic jam, but did nothing to get to the bottom of Benghazi. Disgusting.

    January 10, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  25. JmanC125

    So lets see Christy shutsdown the bridge and everyone loses their mind. Obama shuts down Mount Rushmore, barricades memorials and shuts down private parks and that's just business as usual. CNN Fair and Balanced

    January 10, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
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