By Keith Laing
The Democrat who was defeated by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) last year is calling for a federal investigation of allegations that his administration ordered bridge lanes to be closed in retribution for a local mayor declining to endorse his bid for re-election.
Christie, who is thought to be a likely 2016 presidential candidate, came under intense fire on Wednesday when emails surfaced linking officials in his gubernatorial administration to the decision to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. in September 2013.
The bridge lane closures came as Christie was in the midst of ranking up a victory with 60 percent of the statewide vote over New Jersey State Sen. Barbara Buono (D), who later accused national Democrats of abandoning her effort to unseat Christie.
Buono said Wednesday in an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger that the Justice Department should look into “whether or not there is criminal liability, whether there may have been extortion”
“It clearly exposes a web of deceit and subterfuge and political retribution leading straight to Chris Christie," Buono said. "I said it in the campaign and it fell on deaf ears, but this guy's a charlatan, he's the worst kind of bully and boss."
Christie has not publicly commented on the new allegations about the bridge lane closures so far on Wednesday. He has previously dismissed the allegations that he was involved in an act of political retribution and two Christie-appointed state transportation officials have resigned since the flap first began.
The emails that were obtained by the Bergen County Record show the bridge lane closure decisions went higher up in the Christie administration than the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which contains appointees from both states and operates the George Washington Bridge that connects the two states.
In one email, Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne 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.
Sokolich had declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid as several other small-town Democratic mayors in New Jersey had done, a fact that was highlighted by the governor’s campaign as it start to burnish his national credentials in anticipation of a potential 2016 run.
Kelly responded to the snub from Sokolich by emailing a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, David Wildsten that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.
“Got it,” responded Wildstein, who later resigned from his post.
In a separate communication, 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 told the Star-Ledger that she was disgusted by the tone of the messages about the traffic problems.
“These are terrible people and they shouldn't be in public office,” she said. “It was staggering.”
Buono added that voters in other states should remember the bridge allegations against Christie if he does run for president in 2016.
"This is a guy who wants to be trusted overseeing the most formidable military in the world and he can't be trusted to handle the busiest bridge in the world," she told the Newark paper.
-Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report.