Emails Link Top Christie Aide to 'Bridgegate' Controversy

Wednesday, 08 Jan 2014 09:52 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is running a "paramilitary organization," Barbara Buono, his Democratic opponent in November's election, said after emails were published painting him as the "ringleader" who snarled a town's traffic to pay back its mayor for not supporting him.

Emails and text messages, released in a trove of documents to a state Assembly committee examining the closure of the George Washington Bridge in September, show that one of Christie's top aides suggested it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" about a month before lanes were closed on the George Washington Bridge, snagging commuter traffic heading into New York City.

Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff for Christie, sent the email on Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, reports The Wall Street Journal.

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In addition, the documents also show a series of texts sent during the lane closures. In one exchange about school buses caught in traffic:

A recipient of a Wildstein text said: "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?"

"No," Wildstein replied.

"I feel badly about the kids," the person replied.

Wildstein replied: "They are the children of Buono voters."

Buono on Wednesday told The Daily Beast that the emails and texts show Christie's continued abuse of power.

"When I heard about it when it initially surfaced in September, I knew it was an act of political retribution," Buono said. "And to suggest that Christie wasn't aware and didn't direct it, I thought was ludicrous at the time."

"This is a guy who runs a paramilitary operation," Buono continued. "His people don't sneeze without checking with him first. But I think what really was the most damning [revelation] was the cavalier attitude that these folks had about subjecting children and the public to public safety hazards. These are terrible people, and the ringleader is Chris Christie."

Until now, Christie's administration has not commented about the emails or Buono's accusations, which refer to incidents in connection with the bridge lane closures on Sept. 9-13,  when commuters found themselves stuck in traffic when Wildstein, director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, ordered access lanes closed without prior notice.

Three of the 12 eastbound toll booths heading into New York from New Jersey on the bridge had been set aside for years for morning rush-hour traffic. But during a traffic study on those days in September that Christie now calls "Bridgegate," those lanes were cut to one and the other two lanes were dedicated to regular traffic.

The official story, from Wildstein, was that he ordered the closings as part of the traffic study. However, Democrats have been complaining loudly that he ordered them because Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich would not join other New Jersey mayors in endorsing Christie for re-election.

The email exchange between Wildstein and Kelly also shows he told her he'd keep her informed of "how Fort Lee goes."

The administration has blamed the closures on a mishandled traffic study by Wildstein, a close personal friend of Christie's for several years. But the email, part of several documents that were subpoenaed from the traffic authority, point more toward Christie's administration.

Wildstein has stepped down along with Bill Baroni, Christie's top management appointee at the authority, but Christie said their resignations were not linked to the bridge closures.

State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who chairs a committee investigating the incident, said it has received thousands of documents from Wildstein.

Some of the damaging documents show Wildstein and Baroni declining calls from Sokolich the first morning the closures started, although he was complaining about "an urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee."

"Did he call him back?" Kelly wrote to Wildstein in an email, after Wildstein forwarded a message from Sokolich's message left with Baroni.

"Radio silence," Wildstein replied.

Other documents show Wildstein discussing the bridge closures with Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager and adviser.

"It's fine. The mayor is an idiot, though," Stepien wrote to Wildstein after a Wall Street Journal story on the controversy in September. "[Win] some, lose some."

"I had empty boxes ready to take to work today, just in case," Mr. Wildstein replied, adding, in reference to Sokolich, "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian."

Sokolich, pointing out he is a Croatian, said Wednesday he is sure he was targeted for retribution, especially after the documents came out.

"I've been punished not for something I've done, but for something I didn't do," Sokolich told The Wall Street Journal. "This is the behavior of a bully in a schoolyard. It is the greatest example of political payback."

Sokolich's accusation of bullying is one others have used against Christie, a damaging claim that political experts say is harming his future ambitions.

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