A rabbi with ties to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has emerged as a mysterious new player in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal that’s dogging the Republican’s administration.
In emails made public on Thursday by a state legislative committee investigating the September lane closure plan ordered by Christie staffers – seemingly for political retribution—one of Christie’s appointees wrote that the rabbi “has officially pissed me off.” It was accompanied by a photo of Rabbi Mendy Carlebach with a man who appears to be House Speaker John Boehner.Another Christie ally wrote back: “We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?” The first replied: “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed.”
The rabbi told msnbc in a statement that he didn’t know why he was named in the emails between David Wildstein, a former Christie-appointed official at the Port Authority, and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff.
“My work has always been apolitical and I have no knowledge or understanding why my name was mentioned in these exchanges,” said Carlebach, noting he has worked with a number of governors and their administrations.
Indeed, Carlebach traveled with the governor during his much-touted trip to Israel in 2012. At the time, many speculated Christie – who was considered a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012 and a possible presidential contender in 2016 – was trying to boost his foreign policy credentials.
The 34-year-old religious leader has also served as the governor’s appointee on the New Jersey-Israel Commission and was Christie’s guest at a ceremony commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks ten years later. According to his online bio, Carlebach also serves as a chaplain in the Port Authority Police of NY and NJ. The Port Authority controls the George Washington Bridge.
Back in 2006, when George W. Bush was president, Carlebach was chosen to represent the Jewish community at the White House for its National Day of Prayer.
Christie also previously hosted a Chanukah party at his private residence with a number of Jewish leaders, including Carlebach and his father, Yosef Carlebach, who is also a rabbi.
During Christie’s trip to Israel, which was billed “Jersey to Jerusalem,” the governor traveled with a delegation of 13 business and religious leaders, including Carlebach. Christie met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and also visited the Western Wall holy site.
According to The Shul of Wayside’s website, Carlebach noted at the time: “ I was constantly amazed to see how the Governor quickly grasped the unbelievable vicissitudes of daily life of the citizens of Israel. The Governor displayed his true emotional attachment to our people throughout this world-class trip.”
It is not clear why Wildstein was angry with the rabbi. An email from Kelly to Wildstein six days earlier – with the now-infamous words “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” – apparently catalyzed the lane closings. When e-mails were first uncovered about the plan, many speculated it was authorized as a politically vendetta against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
Wildstein has since resigned and Kelly was fired by Christie. Both Wildstein and Kelly have pleaded the Fifth Amendment in response to subpoenas delivered to them by the state investigatory committee. The governor insists he had no prior knowledge of the lane closings. His office did not return a request for comment about Carlebach.
In the emails, Wildstein also referred to Carlebach as the “Jewish Cid Wilson,” referring to the Bergen County Democrat who was appointed by President Obama five years ago to study the potential creation of the National Museum of the American Latino.
Wilson told msnbc he was shocked to learn he too was referenced in the emails and said he had no idea why, adding that he had never met Wildstein or Kelly. He called Wildstein “destructive” and a “pyschopath” and noted that when Wildstein was a blogger going by the name “Wally Edge,” he authored a post poking fun of Wilson for posting photos on his Facebook page with famous lawmakers and celebrities. Wilson said they were merely with people who have a “shared purpose of giving back to communities.”
Wilson, who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly in 2007, said he viewed the reference in the emails as a “reflection of the kind of bully politics you can expect from Gov. Christie’s political appointees.”
Meanwhile, Fort Lee Borough Hall on Friday morning released approximately 28 hours of 911 tapes from the four days of lane closures and traffic jams between Sept. 9 and Sept. 13 of last year. The recordings included reports of traffic collisions, chest pains and false fire alarms. Several dispatchers and first repsponders voiced frustration over the gridlock, according to NBC News.
Officials have acknowledged there were paramedic delays during the closures. Fort Lee EMS coordinator Paul Favia wrote a letter to the mayor on the second day of the delays saying the traffic jam was “causing unnecessary delays for emergency services.”
Patrick Foye, the executive director of Port Authority appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, wrote to Port Authority officials that “I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or hospice-bound patient delayed.”