Tags: bridge-gate scandal | wildstein | hearing

Former NJ Official Pleads Fifth During Bridge Scandal Hearing

Image: Former NJ Official Pleads Fifth During Bridge Scandal Hearing

Thursday, 09 Jan 2014 02:11 PM

A former top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who is at the center of a political retribution scandal involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, declined to answer questions at a State Assembly hearing on Thursday.

David Wildstein repeatedly invoked the constitutional protection not to say anything that might incriminate him.

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A long-time friend of Christie's, he resigned from the Port Authority in December after admitting he had ordered lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in an apparent ploy to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff fired by Christie on Thursday, sent an email to Wildstein on Aug. 13, saying: "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

"Got it," he replied.

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 refers to Democrat Barbara Buono, whom Christie defeated for his second term as governor.

Christie on Thursday said he was "embarrassed and humiliated" by the scandal, and felt "betrayed" by Kelly and Wildstein.

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 "bridge-gate," 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."

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A former top official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who is at the center of a political retribution scandal involving New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, declined to answer questions at a State Assembly hearing on Thursday.David Wildstein repeatedly...
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2014-11-09
Thursday, 09 Jan 2014 02:11 PM
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