A series of emails and text messages between a top aide in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and Christie allies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is shedding new light on a growing scandal involving one of the nation’s busiest thoroughfares.
Last September, the George Washington Bridge, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan, was effectively shut down for nearly a week during some of the busiest rush hours when all but one of the tolls servicing traffic into New York City was closed. Local access lanes onto the nation’s busiest bridge were forced to crawl through a single toll booth in Fort Lee, the New Jersey city that lies at the mouth of the bridge.
The bridge closings came without warning, and the cause of it was something of a mystery. Officials from the Governor’s office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey claimed that the closures were a necessary inconvenience as part of a traffic study, but Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, feared something more pugnacious was at work.
In the middle of the closures, Sokolich sent a letter to Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee, wondering aloud if the closures were politically motivated, retribution for Sokolich’s failure to support Christie’s reelection bid.
Those charges were denied by Christie’s administration, but in emails and other messages just released by the Wall Street Journal and others, several Christie aides and appointees, including his Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and the PANYNJ’s Director of Interstate Capital Projects David Wildstein (who has since resigned), can be seen directly plotting the closure and exchanging gleeful text messages when they had the intended effect.
Here are four of the most incriminating exchanges:
Bridget Anne Kelly, a top advisor and deputy chief of staff for Gov. Christie, fired off this email to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the PANYNJ, instructing him to move forward with the closures:
This text message appears to be a forwarded plea from Mayor Sokolich asking for help on day two of the closures. In response, Wildstein and an unknown individual exchange delighted replies to one another all but congratulating themselves on achieving their goal:
In a text message exchange between Wildstein and another unidentified person involved in the closure, they comment on the impact the traffic snarl is having on children trying to get to school. Barbara Buono, who is referred to in the exchange, was running against Chris Christie for Governor at the time:
When the New York side of the bridge appeared to have undone the closures pushed through by Christie’s appointees, Wildstein shot off an exasperated email to Kelly bemoaning the fix and promising to enlist the help of “Samson” to get the closures restored. David Samson is the chairman of the PANYNJ, and another Christie appointee. In the weeks following the story, Samson remained tight-lipped about the closure, which would have been unremarkable except for the fact that in similar, previous situations involving traffic jams on bridges under the PANYNJ jurisdiction, he had been very vocal in promising answers and fixes.
The new revelations appear to directly contradict Christie’s insistence over the last few months that his administration had no direct involvement in the scandal. “Crazy” is what he called the allegations during his reelection campaign, and in an interview last month with the local NPR affiliate WNYC, he dismissed questions about his level of involvement in the story by sarcastically claiming to have been the one to close the toll booths himself. After the emails were released on Wednesday morning, Christie canceled his lone public event for the day.
Gov. Christie issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon addressing the revelations contained in the email exchanges made public earlier in the day. Calling the actions partaken by members of his administration “unacceptable,” he again denied knowing about the scandal and promised to hold those responsible to account:
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsactioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”