January 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
9 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. Bob Dobalina

    So some CNN staff members are reading?

    Thanks for the breaking news.

    January 10, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  2. Tony

    As a registered independent I find it kinda ironic how excerpts from Gates book was was about to be released hitting Obama Clinton and Biden then the very next day the emails get published in the Bergen Record

    January 10, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  3. Colin Bainbridge

    A lot of information still has to come to light before a public stoning can occur (eg. Where is the results of the traffic study? Was there one even done? If Governor Christie knew nothing about the lane closures when they first happened, he must have known shortly thereafter because of media reports). Mr. Christie, you make good crookies!

    January 10, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  4. DAVE

    Well,, I love CNN news, both online and television. Lacks the "thrilling –suspension, the who did, they did it mystery novel spin old man Wolf Blitzer stutters as though he is confused, on camera at least. Show Wolf a video of a car crash and he will have more questions than answers,, never reports the facts. Now fat butt Nancy Grace has clairvoyance issues, rare case of speculation gone wild, fits in well with "Girl gone wild, blonde thing too.

    January 10, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  5. CB

    Where was all this righteous indignation from CNN on the dozen or so Obama scandals that have plagued him since his first election, including using the IRS as his own personal goon squad? Or nobody at CNN questioning when the most powerful person in the world continuously claimed to find out about anything bad ON THE NEWS. When acting as the personal PR firm for the left, at least have some dignity and try to hide it.

    January 10, 2014 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  6. Slim

    The single individual that should be held accountable for this is Bridget Anne Kelley. IMO, she needs to be tried for manslaughter for the death of that 91 years old woman.

    January 10, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  7. makeAdifference

    regardless of who is at blame, when an elected official does something like this; Its up to the people to point out these wrongs, the media to expose them, and government to correct them. I see 2 out of 3 lets see if this gets corrected now.

    January 10, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  8. Tony

    As a registered independent I find it kinda ironic how excerpts from Gates book was about to be released hitting Obama Clinton and Biden then the very next day the emails get published in the Bergen Record especially when they had the emails more then a week before. Why did they wait to to publish them when they did?

    January 10, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  9. William

    This is already getting boring. All this stink over a lane closure in NJ and the local politicians throwing a stink over it.
    This is worse than Jersey Shore.

    January 10, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. O'drama ya Mama

    You Repubs criticize Democrats for always deflecting and bringing up Bush but when its one of your own you cant help but blame Obama for something he has 0 control over.

    January 10, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  11. Airplane

    ...we are counting on you

    January 10, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  12. scarf

    Anonymous

    dont you people have jobs
    =======================================================
    Yes, but I'm salaried.

    January 10, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  13. Uncle Sam

    The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Stay after him.

    January 10, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  14. John Richards

    OMG! Are you kidding me? The best argument I am seeing from conservatives who are trying to defend this childish action by the staff of the Republican presidential front runner is."Why don't you report on something else, CNN?"

    January 10, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  15. bill

    8 months after IRS found out for going after obama enemies and nothing-8 hours after christie or someone shuts down a bridge and the investigation is on??? Over a year on Benghazi where soldiers were killed and today obama admits it was terrorist–must have seen the reaction of christie saying he was responsible so obama playing politics like with our soldiers tries it or is that lies it??? we see the USA as we have known it, as our dads and family gave their lives in WWII GONE WITH THE WIND with obama/hillary/kerry/holder/benghazi/fast and furious/IRS/and on and on like YOU CAN KEEP YOUR INSURANCE.

    January 10, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  16. drc

    So the jobs report which was abysmal has fallen to the bottom of the trash heap for CNN, but this story is headline news?

    Maybe if CNN spent more time on the faltering economy, our US debt, Benghazi, IRS scandal, Fast & Furious our country wouldn't be in the shape it is in. But then again that would require a long hard look at Big O and they don't like to show any negativity to the King.

    January 10, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  17. Scout

    Wow...lane closures ????? What a scandal!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Of course Hiliary and Benghazi was nothing compared to a traffic jam. Obama using the IRS to attack his enemies is childs play compared to a traffic jam. I'll bet Gov Chrisitie is responsible for the slow traffic every morning and night in LA and SF too, the louse. Now a big banner "breaking news story" on the traffic jam?? You have got to be kidding me.

    January 10, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  18. cbp

    Another politician whose reputation was enhanced by an adoring public only to be pulled back down. It appears that the media is not doing it job. When the news broke every talk show and every news show were on top of the story.

    We have seen this over and over again. When people are put on that pedestal they are bound to fall off because no human can remain as the perfect politician or person. It would be nice just to hear the truth and leave the hype out of the stories.

    January 10, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  19. Gladiatior

    With this type of corrupt, strong arm behavior from Christie, the Tea Party and Conservatives were right all along. He IS a Democrat!

    January 10, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  20. Vince

    Benghazi is sooooo over. Move on!

    January 10, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  21. Witty's Opinion...

    Why is it that when someone does something like Governor Christie is accused of allegedly doing that people just can't deal with it at face value? Instead they have to drag out other scandals or mistakes that other people make and try to tie the two together. These are individual situations, one has nothing to do with the other, please deal with every situation as it is and not what you choose to make it.

    January 10, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  22. Amazing

    Amazing how right wings try to turn this around and make it about Obama, or Hillary or...
    What losers.

    January 10, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  23. MCFx

    3:00PM
    THIS JUST IN!!!!
    CNN Reporters doing there job! More breaking news at 3:05PM!

    January 10, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  24. crm041066

    The new CNN.... Christie News Network.

    January 10, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  25. Don't worry kiddies...

    For all of you crying about Benghazi, the IRS, Fast and Furious, etc. Fox has decided to dig up all of it's favorite golden oldies and has this story in only one tiny little spot. You should all feel right at home.

    January 10, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
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