Christie spokesman: I was not involved in ‘idiotic episode’
May 13th, 2014
03:26 PM ET
7 months ago

Christie spokesman: I was not involved in ‘idiotic episode’

(CNN) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's chief spokesman said Tuesday that he had no part in controversial lane closures to the George Washington Bridge last year, the core of a political scandal that has upended the Republican's administration.

"I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this strange, unnecessary and idiotic episode," Michael Drewniak said in his subpoenaed testimony before a legislative committee investigating the controversy that has also clouded Christie's potential presidential run.

He also denied having any knowing role in any "actual or perceived cover-up."

Separately, Christie said Drewniak's appearance before the committee and a similar session involving a former aide last week has broken no new ground, despite multiple hours of testimony.

"Absolutely nothing new has come out of this," Christie said on his monthly "Ask the Governor" program on New Jersey 101.5.

He said the testimony has recovered issues already included in an internal review of the scandal conducted by lawyers hired by his office and made public in March. That review cleared Christie of any wrongdoing, but critics said the effort was not thorough.

In his testimony, Drewniak said emails and texts between two former Christie appointees – Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein – were "shocking and disorienting."

The exchanges made public in January offered details and context to the saga, elevating it from a state issue to one that generated national headlines.

Drewniak had considered Wildstein a friend but said the emails represented a "deep betrayal" of that friendship and he now realizes how "badly, regrettably, even naively, I misplaced that trust."

The press secretary has kept a low profile since the scandal broke wide open.

An area of interest for investigators are exchanges Drewniak had with Wildstein, a former appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, last December shortly before Wildstein left his position.

The emails in question show the two, over a period of weeks, coordinated a response to media inquiries to the gridlock caused by the closures. The Port Authority oversees bridge operations.

Drewniak said he at first brushed off reporters about the lane closures, saying traffic problems were a "bottom of the barrel" issue for the governor's office. He started paying more attention to the story after the Wall Street Journal began looking into it.

Officials initially blamed the road mess on a traffic study. But investigators want to know whether Wildstein, and possibly others, abused their authority by closing down the lanes to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, Democrat Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse Christie for reelection.

Asked why he didn't dig further into the allegations that the lane closures were part of a political vendetta, Drewniak said he had a hard time fathoming such speculation because he considered the mayor irrelevant.

"That was the most insane thing to even contemplate, shutting down lanes to the bridge for a political retaliation against a mayor I'd never even heard of?"

Drewniak recalled a time when someone asked about the mayor, and Drewniak replied: "What's a sokolich?"

Drewniak has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He answered questions Tuesday about the administration's response to the media, but maintained he really was under the impression that it was a traffic study, as the administration said.

Christie has repeatedly denied knowing about the traffic mess until after it occurred.

The U.S. Attorney's office is also investigating the lane closures and has empaneled a grand jury.

Drewniak said on December 4 he had what he called an "uncomfortable" dinner with Wildstein, who took full responsibility for the "traffic study," saying it was his idea and "stuck to it as valid."

At that same dinner, Wildstein presented documents that showed the traffic study and reiterated that Kelly, as well as another Christie associate, former campaign manager Bill Stepien, were also aware of the study at the time of the closures. He did not provide Drewniak with a copy of the documents.

Wildstein also said he told Christie about the traffic study on September 11, during the week of the lane closures. Drewniak was surprised at the statement and said he relayed that information to the governor the following day.

Responding to the claim, Christie said he didn't remember Wildstein's statements about the traffic, according to Drewniak.

Drewniak said Christie said something along the lines of: "He tells me at a September 11th event in some fly-by or drive-by remark about, something about traffic, and I'm supposed to understand what he's talking about?"

In his testimony, Drewniak also gave details about a confrontational meeting that Christie had with his staff on December 13, when he demanded that if anyone knew about the lane closures, they had two hours to come forward.

"The confessionals are open," Christie said, according to Drewniak.

Drewniak said he had never seen the governor in such a "powerful" state. He said it was an "uncharacteristic moment of…very constructive anger."

"Everybody in the room was absolutely riveted because we had never heard him talk to us in that way," Drewniak said. "He want around the table and just said so eloquently that this is no time to screw up."

Drewniak had already alerted the governor that Wildstein claimed Kelly and Stepien, were aware of the lane closures.

Kelly is said to have authored the now-infamous email to Wildstein: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," weeks before the lane closures occurred.

No one came forward, however, and Christie went on to say in the press conference that the political drama surrounding the issue was "created and manufactured” and further characterized it as "a whole lot of hullabaloo."


Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Al-NY,NY

    you had no involvement....than you and your "boss" have gross incompetence because you don't know what the your people are doing. Epic fail and the fat boy won't get the nomination even though he's the only one that could even get 100 electoral votes

    May 13, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  2. Lynda/Minnesota

    “The confessionals are open,” Christie said, according to Drewniak..."

    Yeah. And apparently it is going to take the U.S. Attorney General to dig to the bottom of the garbage pile confessionals.

    May 13, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  3. Bill from GA

    So here's an idea: Prosecute the people KNOWN to be involved, NOW, and take it from there.

    May 13, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    Wildstein also said he told Christie about the traffic study during the week of the lane closures. Drewniak was surprised at the statement and said he relayed that information to the governor the following day.

    In his testimony, Drewniak also gave details about a confrontational meeting that Christie had with his staff on December 13, when he demanded that if anyone knew about the lane closures, they had two hours to come forward.
    ------------------------------------–
    The "following day" when "he relayed that information to the governor" would have been in mid-September. Apparently, it took roughly 90 days for the governor to question his staff. The lane shutdowns were major headlines around here, in both print and broadcast media. For Christie to be completely unaware of the closures, as he has maintained, would mean that Christie had totally disconnected from the news. It would mean that Christie and his staff were unaware of the traffic problems at the GWB when he attended 9/11 ceremonies in lower Manhattan, which he entered by helicopter.

    May 13, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  5. Bill from GA

    Sniffit – " If everyone is given equal footing and the employer side of the immigration equation is enforced "

    It sounds like you are agreeing with the part of my comment, " by enforcement of our current laws ", just like 'Fair'. So we have leftie, rightie, and independent in agreement??

    As to the burger flipper getting $15, see, the minimum wage guy is cleaning the tables, maybe taking orders and filling the drink glass. The burger flipper is already making $10, due to his experience, so he goes up to $15. Simple enough for even you to understand.

    May 13, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    What else would he say???

    May 13, 2014 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  7. Boomer in Mo

    The other day I saw a little kid wearing a t-shirt that said "Whatever it is, I didn't do it." Christie and lots of other politicians need shirts like that.

    May 13, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  8. Donna

    OMG!!! Traffic backups in NYC and the George Washingtoin Bridge!! Totally UNHEARD of!! Almost most NEVER happen!! Christie should have KNWON there was heavy traffic and back ups because they are SOOOO RARE!!!

    Oh honestly Rudy.... how ridiiculous. If anybody has a governor that knows about every traffic backup in the state, then you have a governor that isn't doing his job.

    May 13, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Lynda/Minnesota

    “The confessionals are open,” Christie said, according to Drewniak..."

    Yeah. And apparently it is going to take the U.S. Attorney General to dig to the bottom of the garbage pile confessionals.
    ----------------------------------
    And, digging they are. They've actually subpoenaed the state investigating committee for some of the evidence that they have collected. It seems that there just might be an effort to keep incriminating evidence away from Christie's fellow Republicans. The U.S.A.G. office also subpoenaed the grossly over-payed law firm that conducted Christie's investigation.

    May 13, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  10. Rudy NYC

    Bill from GA

    Sniffit – " If everyone is given equal footing and the employer side of the immigration equation is enforced "

    It sounds like you are agreeing with the part of my comment, " by enforcement of our current laws ", just like 'Fair'. So we have leftie, rightie, and independent in agreement??
    -------------------------------–
    I can answer that. No. Everyone has different laws in mind that need stricter enforcement.

    May 13, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    Bill from GA wrote:

    As to the burger flipper getting $15, see, the minimum wage guy is cleaning the tables, maybe taking orders and filling the drink glass. The burger flipper is already making $10, due to his experience, so he goes up to $15. Simple enough for even you to understand.
    -----------------------------------
    You're out of touch with reality, my friend. The average minimum wage earner is 35 years old, and nearly 2/3 of them are women.

    May 13, 2014 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  12. Gurgyl

    -neither Christie, nor Jeb, nor peeyush, nor Cuban guy nor that Canadian with half brain worth your dime.

    May 13, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "As to the burger flipper getting $15, see, the minimum wage guy is cleaning the tables, maybe taking orders and filling the drink glass. The burger flipper is already making $10, due to his experience, so he goes up to $15. Simple enough for even you to understand."

    The comment I responded to treated the $15 as though it was the minimum wage. Changing that in your response is just dishonest. Moreover, you seem to have just invented a pay differential for cashiers versus burger flippers that doesn't even exist. The latter isn't getting paid 150% of the former at fast food joints. Even shift managers at McDonalds (for example) only get a buck or two more per hour on average than the cashiers and cooks. Go use your googles instead of your imagination.

    May 13, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  14. In the tank

    What difference does it make? in the words of Clinton. Libs use the IRS, Eric Holder and every means to cover up every scandal but this is news! thank you communist news network for informing the public so well!

    May 13, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    "It sounds like you are agreeing with the part of my comment, " by enforcement of our current laws ", just like 'Fair'. So we have leftie, rightie, and independent in agreement??"

    Ummmm, no. You and Fair were clearly making the far more generalized statement as fi none of our immigration laws are being enforced, which I clearly do not agree with, particularly with the nonsensical, contra-factual claims that Obama is somehow not enforcing them even more than past POTUSes didn't enforce them. I was specifically stating that the employer side of it is not being enforced, which is something I think everyone understands is for many reasons, not least of which is the gutting of enforcement mechanisms for it and the obstruction of new and better means of enforcing the rules against hiring illegals.

    May 13, 2014 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  16. Tommy G

    Rudy NYC
    The average minimum wage earner is 35 years old, and nearly 2/3 of them are women.
    --

    And your source for this information is the back of a Jack Daniels bottle?

    May 13, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  17. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @Donna: "OMG!!! Traffic backups in NYC and the George Washingtoin Bridge!! Totally UNHEARD of!! Almost most NEVER happen!! Christie should have KNWON there was heavy traffic and back ups because they are SOOOO RARE!!!"

    The traffic problem was caused by bogus lane closures as political retaliation – this has been proven. The question remaining is whether Christie himself ordered it/was aware of it.

    May 13, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  18. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @In the tank: "What difference does it make? in the words of Clinton. Libs use the IRS, Eric Holder and every means to cover up every scandal but this is news! thank you communist news network for informing the public so well!"

    You sit at a computer, spewing right-wing lies like a good little troll, and yet you never find the time to research these FACTS:

    Here's the complete Clinton quote; her saying "What difference does it make?" was completely appropriate:

    "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?

    "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

    "Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this, but the fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information. The IC has a process, I understand, going with the other committees to explain how these talking points came out. But you know, to be clear, it is, from my perspective, less important today looking backwards as to why these militants decided they did it than to find them and bring them to justice, and then maybe we’ll figure out what was going on in the meantime."

    Regarding the IRS, they targeted both conservative AND progressive groups, in response to the flood of tax-exempt organizations that were created in the wake of Citizens United.

    If you managed to read all the way to the end without pulling a muscle, give yourself a cookie.

    May 13, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  19. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    The problem is, given how Christie interacts with people in general, him ordering lane closures out of political spite is a reasonable assumption.

    He made this bed ...

    May 13, 2014 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  20. The Republican Party Is Dead To Me

    Idiotic, meaning republican vindictiveness.

    May 13, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  21. Donna

    ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.
    Here's the complete Clinton quote; her saying "What difference does it make?" was completely appropriate:
    "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?
    --

    So MONTHS after Hillary Clinton knew it was a well planned terrorist attack (she actually knew within the first few hours), she was STILL using false and misleading characterizations of what the attack was in her Congressional testimony.

    I think Hillary Clinton knews exactly what happened from the start and concocted this bogus video demoonstration story/coverup to save her back side and Obama's during the 2012 election. Her incompetence was on full display in Benghazi and she knew it. Both Obama and her got caught with their pants down on the anniversary of 9/11. And to make matters even worse, failed to act in any way to send help to those under attack.

    Hillary Clinton's and Obama's 3am phone call came from Benghazi and BOTH proved they were not up to the task. BOTH FAILED both before, during and after the attack. And all we have gotten is lie, after lie, after obstruction, after cover up.

    May 13, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. Al-NY,NY

    Donna
    Hillary Clinton's and Obama's 3am phone call came from Benghazi and BOTH proved they were not up to the task. BOTH FAILED both before, during and after the attack. And all we have gotten is lie, after lie, after obstruction, after cover up.
    ---

    and none of this will matter in 2016 as she beats the pants off any GOP troll candidate thats thrown at her. You'd better get used to calling her Madam President 'cause that's whats gonna happen

    May 13, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |