From the outset, much of Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal has revolved around David Wildstein, a longtime Christie associate and one of the governor’s top officials at the Port Authority. It was Wildstein who received the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email, and it was Wildstein who called Port Authority officials, telling them to close the access lanes in secret.
Wildstein was also known as the governor’s “eyes and ears inside” the Port Authority before his resignation in December.
His last major public appearance came a few weeks ago, when he took the Fifth in response to questions about the controversy by state lawmakers investigating the scandal. It quickly became apparent that Wildstein and his attorney were looking for an immunity deal in which he would have all kinds of interesting things to say, just so long as he knew he wouldn’t be prosecuted.
But what exactly does Wildstein have to offer in exchange for immunity? According to a new letter, quite a bit.
The attorney representing David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who ordered the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last year, today called into question the accuracy of Gov. Chris Christie’s statements on the scandal.
The charge, which was made in a letter sent by attorney Alan Zegas to the Port Authority, said Wildstein “contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”
MSNBC posted a full copy of Zegas’ letter, which also said, “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” on Jan 9.
As the New York Times’ report noted, “The letter marked the first signal that Mr. Christie may have been aware of the closings, something he repeatedly denied during the news conference.”
We do not yet know what kind of evidence Wildstein has, but it obviously has the potential to be very damaging to the governor.
For context, note that in his press conference three weeks ago, Christie left himself no discernable wiggle-room – the governor emphatically insisted he had no idea what his top aides were up to when they conspired to punish Fort Lee. Re-reading the transcript of his remarks, I found multiple examples in which Christie spoke without ambiguity:
* “[J]ust so we’re really clear: I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
* “I knew nothing about this.”
* “I’m telling you, at 8:50 yesterday morning – I got done with my workout at 8:45. My trainer left. I’m getting ready to get in the shower and at 8:50 Maria Comella called me and told me about the breaking Bergen Record story, and that was the first I knew of any of the emails or the information that was contained in that story.”
To date, there is nothing definitive that has called these claims into question. But again, according to Wildstein’s lawyer, “evidence exists” that Christie knew about the Fort Lee scheme “during the period when the lanes were closed.” What’s more, Wildstein’s lawyer says he can prove it.
This afternoon, the editorial board of the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, told readers, “This is a shocking development. Christie is now damaged goods. If Wildstein’s disclosures are as powerful as he claims, the governor must go.”
Update: This afternoon, the Christie administration released the following statement: “Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along - he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with. As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”