Private messages between Governor?s Christie?s deputy chief of staff and two of his top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create ?traffic problems in Fort Lee
? by shutting lanes to the George Washington Bridge and apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock.
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee
?s mayor ? who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election ? and they chronicle how he tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000, which sits in the shadow of the world?s busiest bridge.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor?s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough?s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta?a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee
,? Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie?s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: ?Got it.?
Other top Christie associates mentioned in or copied on the email chain ? all after the top New York appointee at the authority ordered the lanes reopened ? include David Samson, the chairman of the agency; Bill Stepien, Christie?s re-election campaign manager and the newly appointed state GOP chairman; and Michael Drewniak, Christie?s spokesman.
Christie has previously said that no one in his staff or campaign was involved in the lane closings and he has dismissed questions about political retribution by joking that he moved the traffic cones himself.
But the messages, mostly sent through personal e-mails accounts, indicate that Kelly, a senior staff member in the governor?s office, was involved in the planning and received updates during the week of the traffic jams. She was also informed that week that Christie?s executives at the Port Authority were ignoring the Fort Lee
mayor?s desperate attempts to get a reason for the sudden unannounced closures, as the borough?s first responders struggled to respond to emergencies and buses arrived late on the first day of school.
On Sept. 9, the first morning of the lane closures, Kelly asked in an e-mail if Fort Lee
Mayor Mark Sokolich?s numerous calls to Port Authority officials had been returned.
?Radio silence,? Wildstein replied. ?His name comes right after mayor Fulop,? an apparent reference to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who also said this week that the Christie administration had retaliated against him last year because he didn?t endorse the governor for re-election.
When reached early Wednesday morning, Kelly said: ?I?m literally in the middle of a conference call. ?I?m going to have to call you right back.?
Michael Drewniak, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment Wednesday morning. Neither Wildstein nor his attorney, Alan Zegas, responded to requests for comment Wednesday. Christie?s office cancelled a previously scheduled event in Ocean County.
The explosive documents, supplied by Wildstein in response to a subpoena issued by a panel of state lawmakers, don?t spell out the precise reason for the apparent retribution. But they lay bare a disdain for the mayor and an apparent indifference to the hardships suffered by North Jersey residents who sat in four-hour backups. Wildstein has been called to testify about the documents under oath before the panel tomorrow.
In one exchange of text messages on the second day of the lane closures, Wildstein alludes to messages the Fort Lee
mayor had left complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through the traffic.
?Is it wrong that I?m smiling,? the recipient of the text message responded to Wildstein. The person?s identity is not clear because the documents are partially redacted for unknown reasons.
?No,? Wildstein wrote in response.
?I feel badly about the kids,? the person replied to Wildstein. ?I guess.?
?They are the children of Buono voters,? Wildstein wrote, making a reference to Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, who lost to Christie in a landslide in November.
The e-mails could prove a serious threat to Christie?s credibility at a time when he has emerged as a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. And they are likely to raise questions about whether the governor?s office was involved in what Democrats have said was a coordinated cover-up that has stretched on for months, as damaging details slowly emerged.