Throughout the course of BridgeGate there have been denials that the lane closings were orchestrated within the Executive Office and that political retribution was the motivation for closing the lanes. With yesterday’s published e-mails the cover up has unraveled. We now know why it was done. We still must learn the “who” – the co-conspirators in this plot.
Yesterday we found out that Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly gave David Wildstein the go-ahead: “Time for some traffic problem in Fort Lee,” to which Wildstein responded “Got it.” The message would have been without context if there had not been prior discussion about closing the lanes. A little over two weeks later lanes were closed.
Does anyone believe that Kelly would issue such a directive, knowing there would be traffic chaos, without discussing the matter with her boss? If and when she testifies at a hearing she should be grilled on who else knew about the plan and particularly what role her boss Kevin O’Dowd, Chief of Staff, played in the matter. Didn’t he know about it and even give her the order? He had followed Christie from the U.S. Attorney’s office to the State House. He was now the gatekeeper, the giver of orders, conduit and confidante, carrying out instructions of his boss, being sure that they were followed, and keeping his boss up to date.
More recently Christie nominated Kevin O’Dowd to be our Attorney General – a position ill-suited for him if he was involved in ordering or covering up the matter. At an Assembly Hearing or a Senatorial confirmation hearing (if he should get that far) he has to be asked what he knew, when he knew it, and whether he issued the go-ahead to his Deputy. Even if one believes O’Dowd knew nothing initially about the plan, once the chaos ensued and the press and legislators demanded answers, the first person he would want to query would be his Deputy Director Kelly who was responsible for liaison with the Port Authority. Thus he should have found out the truth of the matter by mid-September.
Given O’Dowd’s close relationship with the Governor, does anyone believe that he would not have discussed the matter with the Governor? Received his OK to proceed? Or later informed him that Kelly told Wildstein to go ahead? From September to January all we heard were denials. It is now apparent that at different points in time P. A. Board Chair and Christie confidante David Samson knew what was going on, as did Bill Stepien, Christie’s Campaign Manager. (Read Samson’s denial of any knowledge here, which seems at odds with the published emails.) Yesterday Christie also denied any knowledge.
Andrea Bernstein at WNYC reported in December “There was a lot of whispering during Christie’s re-election campaign that he had a ‘naughty and nice’ list, but no one had been able to prove it.” We don’t know who was on the “nice” part but from yesterday’s emails we learned that on the “bad” part Jersey City Mayor Steven Fullop was number 1 and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was number 2. Thus, the bridge closing as political retribution seems so much clearer. The list was out there and Christie operatives knew who was on it and felt empowered to take action.
Christie said yesterday “Not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” He goes on to say, “People will be held responsible for their actions.” So it’s not just “a member of my staff” but its “people” who will be held responsible. The net of co-conspirators in the lane closing and the cover up is growing larger. There are doubts that this conduct was made without his knowledge and he will have a tough time extricating himself from that net.
Stay tuned for Gov. Christie’s 11:00am press conference today and the Assembly hearing scheduled to start at Noon, which will be televised on NJTV and can be heard here.