More heads may be rolling in New Jersey: Recently released emails suggest a top staffer for Gov. Chris Christie was involved in a move to close lanes of the George Washington Bridge in September, in effect gridlocking a town whose mayor did not support Christie’s reelection campaign.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Christie, in an email on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority in December after news of the scandal broke.
[Updated, 2:30 p.m.: On Wednesday, Christie called the bridge closure “unacceptable.”]
Christie’s office has insisted that the lane closures, which caused problems for Fort Lee, N.J., just across the George Washington Bridge from Manhattan, were part of a traffic study. When speaking about what New York media are calling “Bridgegate” at a news conference in December, Christie accused the press of obsessing about the issue to paint him in a bad light.
But the scandal has not gone away: The emails were released in response to a subpeona ahead of a hearing in which Wildstein will testify before a panel of state lawmakers.
He’ll have a lot of questions to answer. The 23 pages of emails among Wildstein, Kelly and Bill Baroni, a Port Authority deputy who has also resigned, indicate that the Port Authority purposely ignored calls from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and gloated over his distress.
“Radio silence,” Wildstein wrote when Kelly asked if he had returned an “urgent” call from Sokolich. “His name comes right after Mayor Fulop,” he wrote, refering to Steven Fulop, the mayor of Jersey City, who had previously said Christie retaliated against him.
The emails indicate that Sokolich texted Baroni that four traffic lanes were merging into one toll booth, preventing kids from getting to school.
“Help please, It’s maddening,” Sokolich wrote.
“Is it wrong that I am smiling?” one of the officials wrote to another (it is unclear which official wrote this, since parts of the email are redacted).
“They are the children of Buono voters,” another replied, referencing Christie’s election opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono.
[Updated, 2:30 p.m.: The governor said in a statement Wednesday that he had no knowledge of his office’s direct involvement in the bridge closure, which he called “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 unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,” Christie said.]
Christie won 60% of the vote in November, cruising to an easy victory that made him a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. But these emails could throw a wrench into that plan: They provide more ammunition for Christie’s political opponents, who claim that the governor bullies other politicians.
Already, the Democratic National Committee has seized on the flap, creating an online video reminding voters that Wildstein and Christie were high school pals, and that the controversy has gone on for 121 days so far, with few answers.
“The Christie administration’s explanation of the bridge scandal: incomplete,” the video concludes.
[For the record, 2:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this post reported Christie said Tuesday that the closure was unacceptable. He made the comment on Wednesday.]