Up until now, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) could claim some distance between his office and the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge. Yes, his administration apparently caused deliberate, dangerous, and paralyzing traffic last September. Yes, his administration closed lanes in secret, ignored Port Authority procedures, and crippled the community of Fort Lee.
But, the governor has said, his office wasn’t involved in any wrongdoing. There have been allegations that the governor and his team were punishing a local mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign, but the evidence was circumstantial.
That is, until this morning. The Bergen Record”s Shawn Boburg published details that connect the scandal to the governor’s office in ways that raise the stakes of the controversy considerably.
A cache of private messages between Governor’s Christie’s deputy chief of staff and his two top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create “traffic problems in Fort Lee,” apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock, and insults used to refer to the borough’s mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election.
The documents obtained by The Record also raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta – a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
In mid-August, just a few weeks before the lane closures, Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, emailed David Wildstein, the top Christie executive at the Port Authority who ordered the closures.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she told him. “Got it,” he replied.
Though the governor publicly ridiculed the very idea that his office was involved, we now know with certainty that what Christie said wasn’t true. Christie’s deputy chief of staff was directly involved in planning the incident and even received updates from Wildstein before their plan was set in motion.
Wildstein was also in frequent communication with Christie spokesperson Michael Drewniak about “retaliating” against New York officials for re-opening Fort Lee’s closed lanes.
The same article highlights text messages between Wildstein and an unnamed official in which they mocked the traffic paralysis they imposed on Fort Lee and ridiculed the local mayor, Mark Sokolich. In reference to school buses that couldn’t help children get to school on time, Wildstein specifically wrote, “They are the children of Buono voters.”
The revelations, the Bergen Record added, “could prove a serious threat to Christie’s credibility.”
Ya don’t say.
: In a follow-up piece, note that Christie canceled
his only scheduled public event for the day. Also, we posted a complete round-up
of previous MaddowBlog coverage of the controversy.