Newly released emails show that an aide to New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie and a Christie appointee at the Port Authority plotted to create a traffic nightmare last September, apparently as political payback. They were directly involved with the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge--explicitly in order to devise "traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The email exchanges, obtained by The Record newspaper, refute denials Christie had made that the lane closures were politically motivated.
According to the documents, Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Christie, ordered Port Authority officials to close the bridge lanes three weeks before the chaotic traffic jams that ensued the week of September 9.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in an email to David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed executive at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge.
Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned in December amid the bridge controversy, replied: "Got it."
Christie said he learned of the bridge plot on Wednesday. "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," he said in a statement.
"One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions," Christie added.
The Democratic National Committee came out swinging against Christie (who chairs the Republican Governors Association) after the emails came to light. “These revelations are troubling for any public official, but they also indicate what we’ve come to expect from Governor Christie – when people oppose him, he exacts retribution," said DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement. "When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes. And when anyone dares to look into his Administration, he bullies and attacks."
Christie has repeatedly denied that no member of his staff or campaign was involved in the lane closings.
"I worked the cones, actually," Christie said. "Unbeknownst to everybody I was actually the guy out there, in overalls and a hat. … You really are not serious with that question."
He told reporters in another press conference last month, "It’s just not that big a deal."
But the controversy seems to have deepened after Wednesday's revelations indicate that Kelly was briefed during the week of the traffic jams, and she was also told that Christie's Port Authority executives were ignoring Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's request for an explanation for the sudden closures, according to The Record's report.
Mayor Sokolich called the office of Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, another Christie appointee. Baroni’s assistant Matthew Bell sent an email that Sokolich called with an "urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee." After receiving the email, Baroni forwarded the email to Wildstein who then forwarded it to Kelly. Kelly asked Wildstein if Baroni called the mayor back, to which Wildstein replied, "Radio silence. His name comes right after Mayor Fulop." Kelly responded "Ty."
Before his November re-election, Christie sought endorsements from North Jersey Democrats in an effort to promote bipartisanship. But Sokolich, a Democrat, declined to endorse Christie's re-election bid, as did Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
Another email showed Christie’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, now the New Jersey GOP state chairman, referring to Mayor Sokolich as “an idiot.” Wildstein replied, “It will be a tough November for this little Serbian,” referring to the mayor. Sokolich cleared up his nationality and said that he is, in fact, Croatian.
The Fort Lee mayor told Chris Hayes on Wednesday evening that Wildstein "deserves an a-- kicking." He also said that Gov. Christie should apologize to the people of New Jersey.
Wildstein and Bill Baroni both resigned in December over the escalating brige scandal while Christie continued to deny any involvement or knowlege of the incident. Christie suggested their resignations weren't directly linked to the bridge flap.
Amid the fallout following the revealed emails, two New Jersey Democratic legislators have called for a federal investigation into the lane closures, The Record reported.
Wildstein and Kelly could not be reached for comment.
Christie's administration has claimed the lane closures were the result of a traffic study prompted by the Port Authority. The emails were supplied by David Wildstein in response to a subpoena issued by state lawmakers investigating the bridge closures. Wildstein has been called to testify about the documents before the panel of state legislators Thursday.
Read the full emails here.