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Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”: Emails show Chris Christie’s office planned lane closures to punish Democratic mayor

Top aides to Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Chris Christie of New Jer­sey ordered the Port Author­i­ty to close sev­er­al lanes on the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge to delib­er­ate­ly cause grid­lock in the town of Fort Lee after its Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­or refused to endorse Christie’s reelec­tion bid, a new­ly released trove of explo­sive emails and texts show.

Democ­rats have con­tend­ed for weeks that the expla­na­tion for the lane clos­ings offered by Christie’s office (that the lane clos­ings were part of a “traf­fic study”) was a farce and a lie, and the mes­sages released today prove it.

On August 13th, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Brid­get Anne Kel­ly, sent an email from her Yahoo email address to David Wild­stein, a con­fi­dant of the gov­er­nor’s who was giv­en a plum job by Christie ally Bill Baroni, the top polit­i­cal appointee at the Port Author­i­ty. “Time for some traf­fic prob­lems in Fort Lee,” Kel­ly wrote.

“Got it,” Wild­stein replied, from his Gmail account.

Less than a few weeks lat­er, traf­fic in Fort Lee came to a stand­still when, on Sep­tem­ber 13th (the first day of school), com­muters found two of three toll lanes nor­mal­ly ded­i­cat­ed to local traf­fic inex­plic­a­bly closed.

Just as Christie’s aides had want­ed, Fort Lee became a grid­locked city dur­ing rush hour, clogged with seem­ing­ly unend­ing traf­fic jams.

Fort Lee May­or Mark Sokolich appealed to Baroni for help. In a text mes­sage, he wrote, “Present­ly we have four very busy traf­fic lanes merg­ing into only one toll booth… The big­ger prob­lem is get­ting kids to school. Help please. It’s maddening.”

In response, Wild­stein texted an unknown col­league who was in on the plot to pun­ish Sokolich. “Is it wrong that I am smil­ing?” Wild­stein asked.

“No,” said the oth­er individual.

In anoth­er set of texts, Wild­stein and anoth­er con­spir­a­tor made light of the traf­fic jams they had caused. Here is that exchange:

Received, 9/10/2013, 8:05 AM: I feel bad­ly about the kids
Received, 9/10/2013, 8:06 AM: I guess
Sent, 9/10/2013, 8:11 AM: They are the chil­dren of Buono voters
Sent, 9/10/2013, 8:13 AM: Bot­tom line is he did­n’t say safety

After offi­cials on the New York side act­ed to help Fort Lee, Christie’s aides reg­is­tered their unhap­pi­ness that their plot had been foiled.

David Wild­stein wrote: “The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morn­ing. We are appro­pri­ate­ly going nuts. Sam­son help­ing us to retaliate.”

Brid­get Anne Kel­ly wrote back, “What??”

Wild­stein then replied, “Yes, unre­al. Fixed now.”

Christie’s aides must have known that these incrim­i­nat­ing mes­sages exist­ed, even if they did not tell their boss (and it seems unlike­ly he could­n’t have known any­thing). Yet for weeks, they stu­pid­ly tried to explain away the lane clo­sures as hav­ing to do with a traf­fic study… as did Christie him­self. They can’t deny now that they tried to fab­ri­cate a false ratio­nale for the clo­sures as a cover-up.

“Can you say with cer­tain­ty that some­one else didn’t on your staff or in your admin­is­tra­tion act on your behalf for the lane clo­sures for polit­i­cal ret­ri­bu­tion?” Christie was asked last month by a reporter dur­ing a press brief­ing.

“Yeah, I have absolute­ly no rea­son to believe that,” Christie respond­ed, adding con­fi­dent­ly,  “I’ve made it very clear to every­body on my senior staff that if any­one had any knowl­edge about this that they need­ed to come for­ward to me and tell me about it and they’ve all assured me that they don’t.”

On anoth­er occa­sion in Decem­ber, Christie told reporters that it was “absolute­ly, unequiv­o­cal­ly, not” true that the lane clos­ings had been ordered as polit­i­cal retal­i­a­tion against the may­or of Fort Lee. It turns out that the alle­ga­tions made by Democ­rats are absolute­ly, unequiv­o­cal­ly true.

Christie has said repeat­ed­ly that Democ­rats have been try­ing to man­u­fac­ture a scan­dal where there isn’t one. But it turns out the scan­dal was man­u­fac­tured by his own peo­ple. They plot­ted out the lane clos­ings as a way to pun­ish May­or Sokolich and then they took delight in the may­hem that they had caused.

It would seem Christie’s only way for­ward now is to clean house. The mag­ni­tude of today’s doc­u­ment dump can­not be overstated.

Democ­rats are already hav­ing a field day.

“The lat­est news in Chris Christie’s bridge scan­dal indi­cates polit­i­cal ret­ri­bu­tion and rais­es a host of new ques­tions,” said DNC Chair­woman Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz. “What is crys­tal clear is that the Governor’s office ordered lane clo­sures that were intend­ed to make first respon­ders expe­ri­ence delays, kids sit grid­locked on the first day of school, and com­muters hit log jams, to pun­ish the Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­or who didn’t endorse Chris Christie’s reelec­tion bid.

“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.

“For 121 days, Chris Christie dis­par­aged the ques­tion­ers and lat­er lied say­ing no one in his office was involved. That was clear­ly untrue giv­en the dis­cov­ery of emails that came direct­ly from his own top staff. Time’s up, Governor.”

The Star-Ledger of New Jer­sey reports that Bar­bara Buono, Christie’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent, is call­ing for a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into the scan­dal, say­ing the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice should investigate.

“It clear­ly expos­es a web of deceit and sub­terfuge and polit­i­cal ret­ri­bu­tion lead­ing straight to Chris Christie,” Buono said in remarks pub­lished by the newspaper.

“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,” she added.

Refer­ring to Christie’s pres­i­den­tial aspi­ra­tions, she observed, “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.”

Bridge­gate, as the scan­dal is now being called, threat­ens to destroy Chris Christie’s 2016 hopes in addi­tion to under­min­ing his cred­i­bil­i­ty and pop­u­lar­i­ty in New Jer­sey. There will sure­ly be fur­ther rev­e­la­tions and fall­out in the weeks to come.

Oper­a­tives employed by Christie’s Repub­li­can would-be 2016 rivals are prob­a­bly as sat­is­fied with today’s devel­op­ments as Democ­rats are.

If Christie isn’t a cred­i­ble can­di­date for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, then he’s out of the pic­ture and it will be eas­i­er for one of them to win.

We’re look­ing for­ward to see­ing how Jon Stew­art and Rachel Mad­dow cov­er today’s explo­sive trove of emails and text messages.

UPDATE: Chris Christie’s office has released a state­ment dis­tanc­ing the gov­er­nor from the actions of his staff. He claims he did­n’t know (just like Nixon!)

What I’ve seen today for the first time is unac­cept­able. I am out­raged and deeply sad­dened to learn that not only was I mis­led by a mem­ber of my staff, but this com­plete­ly inap­pro­pri­ate and unsanc­tioned con­duct was made with­out my knowledge.

One thing is clear: this type of behav­ior is unac­cept­able and I will not tol­er­ate it because the peo­ple of New Jer­sey deserve bet­ter. This behav­ior is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of me or my Admin­is­tra­tion in any way, and peo­ple will be held respon­si­ble for their actions.

Not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of me or my admin­is­tra­tion? Ha! Sor­ry, gov­er­nor, but your cred­i­bil­i­ty is in tat­ters at this point. You can try to negate the truth, but you can’t blus­ter your way out of this. You and your staff have been dis­hon­est with the peo­ple you claim to proud­ly rep­re­sent. Par­tic­u­lar­ly those affect­ed by Bridgegate.

It does sound like heads are going to roll. Baroni and Wild­stein have already resigned. Deputy Chief of Staff Kel­ly will prob­a­bly be hung out to dry next.

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2 Comments

  1. It looks like this may have legs and as such, the gov­er­nor could lose his one trump card of look­ing rea­son­able and able to get along with Democ­rats. Of course, if he los­es that, he can always depend on his “good looks”.

    # by Mike Barer :: January 8th, 2014 at 11:37 PM
  2. Christ­ie­gate

    # by Mike Barer :: January 9th, 2014 at 1:23 PM

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