A letter on behalf of a former Port Authority official that alleges New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as they were happening is a potentially "damning" development for the embattled governor, Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich said Saturday.
"If during the lane closures means that Monday, Sept. 9, and no action was taken for the next four days, you know, in my mind, that's a big problem, because your solemn oath would have dictated that you protect, you serve and you do whatever it is that you need to do in your power to make sure that that retribution does not continue and put people in harm's way," Sokolich said on MSNBC's UP w/ Steve Kornacki. "If he found out on Tuesday, still a problem. Wednesday, still a problem. Thursday, a problem, but less of one rather than Monday. So I think it's a question of timing. I don't want to prejudge anyone. I can appreciate the context under which the letter was written, but it's certainly a damning letter."
Fort Lee, N.J. is the town mentioned in a now-infamous email from a former top aide to Christie, who called for "some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The latest bombshell allegations surfaced Friday evening in a letter from the lawyer representing David Wildstein, a former Christie ally and Port Authority official. The letter, addressed to the general counsel of the Port Authority, claimed that it was "the Christie administration's order" to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which resulted in severe traffic on the bridge during the week of Sept. 9.
“It has also come to light that a person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie administration's order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and 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 he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter said.
Christie's administration responded to the letter Friday, saying in a 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,” the statement added.
Christie has repeatedly stated that he only learned of the closures in the press after they had ended, and a spokesman released an additional statement late Friday. “Just to clear up any lingering confusion: Governor Christie has said each time he has been asked that he first learned about the closing of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge from press accounts after the instance was over,” spokesman Colin Reed said.
On Saturday, Christie's office sent out an email with the subject line, "5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That's Not A Bombshell." The email criticizes the New York Times, which was the first news organization to report on Wildstein's lawyer's letter, for it's "sloppy reporting." It concludes by stating, in bold font: "Bottom line - David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein." Politico obtained the email and posted it in full on its website.
The New Jersey Democratic lawmakers who co-chair a state legislative committee looking into the so-caled "Bridgegate" scandal said late Friday they will be considering the letter in their investigation.
"We have read the letter from Mr. Wildstein's attorney and will consider it as our investigation moves forward," New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski and New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said in a statement.
NBC News’ Michael Isikoff reported Saturday that federal prosecutors met with the lawmakers investigating the scandal on Friday, the same day the letter from Wildstein's attorney was released. The prosecutors want to know if legislators plan to call any witnesses so they have time to raise objections if testimony might harm the federal investigation, according to sources.
Reid J. Schar, special counsel to the legislative committee, confirmed the meeting in a statement released by Wisniewski and Weinberg.
"I met with the U.S. Attorney's Office on Friday. Based on the meeting, I am comfortable that the Committee's investigation may continue," Schar said. "As we proceed we will be mindful of the need to avoid taking steps that could inappropriately impede any investigation the U.S. Attorney's Office may be conducting."
Isikoff also reported that some of the individuals and organizations that were subpoenaed have been given extensions and will have up to three weeks to turn over emails and documents.
New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D) said Friday on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes that Wildstein's letter "establishes reasonable suspicion that a series of crimes may have been committed by the governor, including malfeasance in office, nonfeasance in office, obstruction of justice."
"I mean, if he knew while these lanes were being closed and did nothing about it, while people’s lives were being endangered, while people were inconvenienced, couldn’t get to school, work, particularly emergency response vehicles. If he knew and did nothing about it and then participated in a wild cover-up, making up a false story, those are serious, serious problems for the governor. And something that we have to move forward with and investigate. And if probable cause is established, then we’d have to issue, that would be the Assembly, articles of impeachment," Lesniak added.
"So ... you're starting to think down that road?" Host Chris Hayes asked Lesniak.
"Now, for the first time. I've never said that before. But right now we certainly have reasonable suspicion that that's a path that we must take. We are obligated to take that," Lesniak said.
In a separate letter Friday, former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepian's lawyer asked that the subpoena issued to Stepien be withdrawn, arguing it violates his rights. The legislative committee issued 20 subpoenas on Jan. 17 to key officials in Christie's administration and campaign. The deadline to submit documents related to the investigation is next week.
New Jersey media were not taking Wildstein’s allegations lightly. On Friday evening, the Newark Star-Ledger, a newspaper that endorsed Christie in 2013, published an editorial saying that the governor should resign if the allegations turn out to be true. “If this charge proves true, then the governor must resign or be impeached,” the editorial said. “Because that would leave him so drained of credibility that he could not possibly govern effectively. He would owe it to the people of New Jersey to stop the bleeding and quit. And if he should refuse, then the Legislature should open impeachment hearings.”
Read the letter from Wildstein's lawyer:
UPDATE On Sunday evening, the Associated Press reported that another member of Christie’s staff had resigned. Christina Genovese Renna was one of 17 people subpoenaed by the committee investigating the lane closures. She worked under Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, who Christie fired last month, and in the statement her lawyer gave to the AP, said she had been considering leaving since Christie won re-election in November.
Aliyah Frumin contributed reporting.