On Friday, the New Jersey legislature released almost a thousand pages of internal emails and communications related to the controversial and unexpected lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last September. The massive document dump comes just two days after the Bergen Record published emails showing that Christie aides participated and orchestrated a plan to close down routes to the nation’s busiest bridge and snarl traffic in an apparent act of retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Christie held a press conference earlier this week to deny any involvement in the scandal and to announce the termination of one close aide and his decision to reprimand another. Several Christie appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have also resigned.
The new documents reveal how Christie aides defended their inexplicable decision to study new traffic patterns on the George Washington Bridge without informing local officials or their New York counterparts, fended off questions from an exasperated Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, and then stayed quiet as the press investigated the reason for the changes. Below are the five most damning revelations:
Christie’s Port Authority chairman knew about the closings.
Though Christie insisted that David Samson, his chairman of the Port Authority, was not involved in the closings, the documents show that he was aware of the new traffic pattern before testing ended on Sep. 13.
In fact, Samson even wrote an angry email to New York Port Authority Official Patrick Foye, a Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) appointee, accusing him of leaking information to the press. “He’s playing in traffic, made a big mistake,” he wrote:
Christie officials knew that the new traffic patterns were causing massive congestion and raising safety concerns. Still, they continued the “study.”
Christie appointees Bill Baroni — the Deputy Director of the Port Authority — and David Wildstein — director of interstate capital projects — were told on the very first day of the study (Monday) that the new traffic patterns were causing massive delays in Fort Lee and impeding public safety. Fort Lee Police Department Chief called the new traffic pattern a “miserable failure.” Still, the officials kept the bridge lanes closed for three additional days:
Officials were also told that the tests were “very expensive and labor intensive”:
A PowerPoint presentation prepared after three days of snarled traffic, titled “EARLY assessment of the benefits of the trial.” The conclusion: “T.B.D.” (To be determined):
Officials also could not say how long the new traffic pattern was intended to last.
Port Authority officials blamed the traffic on the Mayor of Fort Lee.
On Sep. 12, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich wrote a personal letter to Baroni, “in hopes that a recent decision by the Port Authority will be reversed quietly, uneventfully and without political fanfare.” Sokolich remarks that the lane closures have “wreaked havoc upon our community,” “emergency vehicles are experiencing tremendous response time delays,” and complains that he had “received absolutely no notice of this decision” or “obtained any response to our multiple inquiries.” “[T]ry as we may to understand its rationale without the benefit of a response from the Port Authority, we are reaching the conclusion that there are punitive overtones associated with his initiative.”
He then reveals that Port Authority Police Officers had been advising local residents that the traffic was “the result of a decision that I, as the Mayor, recently made”:
Christie appointees lashed out at their New York counterparts for complaining about the study.
Foye blasted Christie officials for closing done the lanes, sending a scathing e-mail in which he chronicled the “dangers created to the public interest.” Foye promptly reversed the decision to close the lanes:
As Foye continued to request public disclosure and communication about the traffic changes, Wildstein described him as a “piece of crap” in an email to Michael Drewniak, Christie’s chief spokesman. Drewniak also attacked Foye in November.
Christie appointees tried to squash press stories about the study.
After reporters from the Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, the Star Ledger, and other outlets began sending press inquires about the lane closures in September and then again as the controversy heated up in November, Christie appointees repeatedly instructed the press team to keep quiet and avoid comment.
Baroni specifically told Foye to avoid any public discussion about the matter:
After one staff member asked, “Has any thought been given to writing an op-ed or providing a statement about the G.W.B. study?” “Or is the plan just to hunker down and grit our way through it?” Wildstein replied, “Yes and yes.” Christie appointees repeatedly instructed press aides not to respond to reporters’ questions.