Christie quiet after emails link his staff to bridge scandal

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New emails that surfaced Wednesday suggest a top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was directly involved in closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create traffic jams as retribution against a Democratic mayor who declined to endorse Christie.

The emails provide the clearest link yet between Christie’s administration and the snarling traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., and raised immediate questions about how it might affect any plans Christie has to run for the White House.

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Democratic state legislators in New Jersey called for a federal investigation into the scandal, while Democrats in Washington argued the emails are evidence that Christie lied when he said his administration had no hand in the lane closures.

Christie postponed his one public appearance on Wednesday, and he and his team had yet to make a statement on the emails.

Christie has consistently denied any connection between his administration and the lane closures or any knowledge of the reason behind the closures, which created massive traffic jams on the Fort Lee on-ramps for four days in September.

The closures were ordered by two Christie appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who said they did so to carry out a traffic study.

The most damaging emails, obtained by the Bergen County Record, were between Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie’s who the governor appointed to the Port Authority that oversees the bridge.

In one, Kelly appeared to instruct Wildstein to create traffic problems in Fort Lee, where Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich had failed to endorse Christie in his reelection bid. Christie at the time was hailing bipartisan calls for his election as he sought to run up a high margin in his reelection, something observers believed would help his presidential prospects.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly emailed to Wildstein.

“Got it,” Wildstein emailed back.

In another exchange, an unidentified person had a texting exchange with Wildstein on the second day of the closures about the fact that Sokolich had pled to the Port Authority for help, claiming school buses had been delayed because of the snarled traffic.

“Is it wrong that I am smiling?” Wildstein wrote to the person, identified by The New York Times as Kelly.

“No,” the person replied.

“I feel badly about the kids. I guess,” Wildstein responded.

“They are the children of Buono voters,” the other person, identified by the Times as Kelly, responded.

Buono is state Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democrat Christie defeated in his reelection bid.

She and other Democrats on Wednesday called for a federal investigation into the scandal.

Wildstein provided the emails in response to a subpoena from state lawmakers investigating the bridge closure. He has previously resigned from the Port Authority.

Other Christie aides were mentioned or copied on the emails after Wildstein ordered the lanes reopened included David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority; Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager and now New Jersey GOP chairman; and Michael Drewniak, the governor’s spokesman.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D), a frequent Christie antagonist, suggested a federal grand jury should investigate what he called “the biggest scandal to hit New Jersey since Abscam,” the FBI sting that implicated a number of New Jersey officials, including a senator, in a bribery scandal.

“It’s not a surprise that tactics like this would be used by Gov. Christie. It is a surprise that they were able to get this far, to create what, in my opinion, is reasonable suspicion to convene a grand jury to investigate criminal violations of the law,” he told The Hill.

He said that the closures clearly put lives in danger, because the traffic would have delayed emergency vehicles, something he called “irresponsible and reckless and to do that for political retribution is criminal.”

Others in the statehouse, like N.J. Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who represents the Fort Lee area, saw the emails as the “smoking gun” tying Christie to the lane closures.

She told The Hill that the new revelations concerning the closures were “worse than I imagined.”

While the Port Authority officials who ordered the lane closings cited the need for a traffic study, no evidence to back that up has surfaced.

Democrats believe the scandal will harm Christie’s White House hopes, arguing it punctures his popular personal brand and underlines arguments they've made that he is a bully who does what is best for himself, not his state.

DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said in a statement that the new emails make it clear that Christie “lied,” and that they’re simply par for the course for the governor.

“These revelations are troubling for any public official, but they also indicate what we’ve come to expect from Governor Christie – when people oppose him, he exacts retribution. When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes. And when anyone dares to look into his Administration, he bullies and attacks,” she said.

Both the Democratic National Committee and Correct the Record, a Democratic group focused on the 2016 presidential race, blasted stories outlining the new emails to reporters within minutes of the news breaking, seeking to capitalize on the new developments.

“So many questions remain unanswered,” said Adrienne Elrod, communications director for Correct the Record. “Was there a cover-up? Was Christie lying then or lying now?  It is time for Gov. Christie to turn over emails and phone records and come clean on what really happened.”

This story was posted at 10:28 a.m. and updated at 4:09 p.m. 

 

 

 

Emails obtained by Bergen County Record

--This report was updated at 11:25 a.m.