UPDATE: Read the emails. 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. It involves Christie’s Dep. Chief of Staff, Port Authority David Samson, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak, and Bill Stepian, Christie’s re-election campaign manager and the new head of the NJ GOP.
Here we go.
Reporting from Shawn Boburg of The Record tracks the decision – possibly illegal – to create traffic chaos in Fort Lee via sudden GWB lane closures right into the executive offices of Gov. Chris Christie:
Governor Christie’s deputy chief of staff told one of his top Port Authority executives that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” several weeks before controversial lane closures took place at the George Washington Bridge, according to sources.
Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote in an email to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures, according to the sources.
John Wisniewski, who as Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee has been the lead on the legislature’s investigations, has already said that subpoenaed documents showed the order to close the lanes came from outside Port Authority. If this is true, it explains many things that before now made very little sense, including why the Port Authority would risk the safety of drivers, first responders and patients carried across the George Washington Bridge via ambulance to hospital or hospice.
It suggests that the ‘political payback’ scenario of what happened may be credible: David Wildstein and Bill Baroni – Christie’s top men at Port Authority, claimed lane closures were a “traffic study”. But two things stick out here: (1) Closures came 2 weeks after Fort Lee Democratic mayor Mark Sokolich was asked to endorse Chris Christie, as other Dem mayors had done, and he refused (2) Port Authority professionals have already testified that Wildstein specifically ordered that Fort Lee not be advised of what was going on as it was happening. That is very inconsistent with Port Authority’s multi-layered practice of involving all stakeholders in all traffic flow changes, as PA engineers have testified.
It explains why Gov. Christie ridiculed the press when they asked about speculation he engineered the traffic tie-up.
It explains why David Wildstein was involved: Wildstein, the founder of PolitickerNJ and its mysterious “Wally Edge” master of insider political gossip, was given a high-level job created for him but without a job description. WSJ reports it was Wildstein who gave the order to close all but one local lane feeding into Fort Lee without informing Fort Lee. Wildstein, who reported Christie’s rise all those years at PolitickerNJ without disclosing he was a personal friend of Christie’s, has already resigned from Port Authority and has been summoned to testify at a legislative hearing tomorrow.
It explains why no evidence of a “traffic study” has materialized: Wildstein and Bill Baroni, Christie’s highest-level political placement at the PA, claim the lane closures were part of a “traffic study”. That was contradicted by PA ED Patrick Foye days after. Foye says the closures likely broke state and federal law.
It explains sudden GOP interest in subpoenaed documents: Yesterday, Assembly Republican Whip complained to the press that Republicans were told subpoenaed documents wouldn’t be made available to them until today, one day before the hearing. It was the first interest party leaders have shown in the case, which they’ve mainly ignored, ridiculed or shown indifference to.
It explains why David Samson has been silent since this story became news: Samson, Port Authority’s Chair (a Christie nomination) and a close associate of Christie who ran Christie’s transition team and traveled with him to Arizona when Christie was installed as Chair of the Republican Governors Assn. Samson was also New Jersey Attorney General (2002-2003), who must know whether the lane closures broke state and federal law (as PA ED Foye said), which may now mean that he is implicated in an illegal act.
Kelly, who lives in Ramsey, is one of three deputy chiefs of staff to Christie, in charge of legislative and intergovernmental affairs.