We’ve been watching the Port Authority’s website. Late tonight, PA posted responses to a number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents related to the sudden closure of local lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September, 2013.
We’re still looking through these; there’s a lot of electronic paper, and dozens of media requests and requests from groups like Judicial Watch.
What we’ve seen so far, below the fold:
Several key points emerge:
(1) Port Authority’s response to many of these requests is, essentially, No. Many replies are non-responsive, or incomplete. Some others, instead of simply making the requested information available in the response, direct the applicant to where that info may have been provided to the legislature’s investigation, like this reply to The Record.
(2) Emails between Christie political operatives inside PA (David Wildstein, Bill Baroni, Commissioner William Schuber, David Samson) and Christie’s key players outside in the Office of the Governor (including Michael Drewniak, Bridget Kelly, Michele Brown, Maria Comell) plus Christie operatives in NJGOP (like Bill Stepian) are desired by many news organizations all sniffing down the same trail.
(3) Many requests are denied, “exempt from disclosure pursuant to exemption (5) of the Code” (read the PA’s FOIA Code here). But the Code is unsigned, and it’s unclear whether the PA is citing law, or merely its policy, which may be challengeable in court (we’re looking into this).
(4) Internal memos would seem to illustrate a concern – which reads as defensive posture- in discussions of traffic videos, and whether they would have to be turned over to Fort Lee Police.
Some requests stand out:
American Bridge FOIA request (a pro-Democrat SuperPAC): Appears to be the most detailed. Interestingly, the request is for personal email communication of David Wildstein, PA Commissioner William Schuber, and “Bill Samson” (appears to be an error, meaning PA Chair David Samson). Specific people to whom emails may have gone to, or been received by, are listed and include Gov. Chris Christie himself, Michele Brown, Drewniak, Bridget Kelly, Maria Comella and other key players in Christie’s political inner circle. The personal emails of Wildstein, Schuber and Samson, and also Drewniak, Kelly, and Bill Stepian are printed in the request.
American Bridge did their homework: The request includes detailed justification for the demand of personal email records, citing dated New York Times references to communication between key players by personal email. American Bridge argues that Samson, Schuber and Wildstein may have to provide those emails, but as current or former govt. employees they are obligated to provide it to the PA, or the PA has the right to obtain it from their service provider.
Port Authority’s responds they don’t have any personal email correspondence from those individuals.
American Bridge addl. FOIA request: Also seeking video traffic counting data also given to Fort Lee Police. This 18-page request includes a copy of email from GWB Chief Durando to several PA employees saying he doesn’t know why the Police want the video, and significant pushback from inside the PA not to provide the video, and memos wondering if the video would be discoverable under FOIA. Overall impression of those memos? 18 pages of defensive posturing.
Port Authority’s FOIA reply to that request? They’ve “searched their files and found no documents responsive to the request’.
ABC News: also seeks correspondence between PA employees and employees in Gov. Christie’s office. But adds a request for communication to the governments of Fort Lee and Jersey City.
Port Authority responds that the request is overly broad.
Among other requests, the New York Times sought calendars, appointment books and schedules for Baroni and Wildstein. Judicial Watch wanted reports, studies, memoranda, a broad request for communications, any communication between Christie or his administration re: lane closures. Shawn Boburg of The Record sought (and got) records of David Wildstein’s work absences. There were also requests from Huffington Post, Star-Ledger, and CNN, which wanted video of GWB 9/9/13 & 9/10/13.