Just as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was trying to emerge from the George Washington Bridge scandal with his presidential ambitions still intact, one of the main players in the controversy has revealed that Christie apparently was lying when he said that he didn’t know about the lane closures in Fort Lee until after traffic was shut down for days.
David Wildstein is the now-resigned Port Authority official who gave the order to shut down the lanes in the town that abuts the bridge at the direction of Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly – whom the governor has since fired. Wildstein said through a letter from his lawyer that he had evidence to show Christie knew about the lane closures.
“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,” said the letter from attorney Alan L. Zegas to the general counsel of the Port Authority.
The letter actually concerned the payment of Wildstein’s legal fees.
“The letter, which was sent as part of a dispute over Mr. Wildstein’s legal fees, does not specify what the evidence is,” the New York Times reports. “Nonetheless, it marks a striking break with a previous ally. Mr. Wildstein was a high school classmate of Mr. Christie’s who was hired with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge.”
Christie yesterday repeated that he had “no prior knowledge” of the closures.
“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,” the statement from the governor’s office said. “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.”
But this is what the governor said during his Jan. 9 press conference: “I don’t know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over.”
So while Christie appears to be trying to closely parse the words he used, most news reports say the governor lied. Political insiders had been claiming over the last couple of weeks that Christie’s presidential hopes were still alive, but that window surely is closing as damaging reports continue to come out concerning Christie’s penchant for using his office to bully and exact revenge on his enemies.
Christie attempted to put the matter behind him by announcing that he had fired Kelly—without even speaking to her first — who he said was responsible for initiating the closure of traffic lanes leading into Fort Lee, a New Jersey town that sits next to the bridge and which many New Jerseyans use to access the bridge on their commutes into New York City.
Kelly apparently was upset that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich hadn’t endorsed Christie in his re-election bid and sent an early morning message to Wildstein.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“Got it,” he wrote back.
But commentators like MSNBC host Rachel Maddow offered an alternative theory that the lane closures were actually a retaliatory move in a fight with Fort Lee-based state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the state Senate Democratic leader, in a battle over a Supreme Court nominee, rather than a strike at Sokolich, who said he wasn’t ever pressured to endorse Christie.
Nevertheless, Sokolich called the lane closings a “venomous form of political retaliation.”