Christie in trouble: Emails Link Top Christie Aide To George Washington Bridge Closure (UPDATED)
Has the political success story of New Jersey Chris Christie now hit a vehicle-destroying speed bump? It sounds that way :The Record reports that emails tie a top Christie aide to the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that many believe was done to retaliate for Christie’s problems with Fort Lee’s mayor in Christie’s re-election bid:
Private messages between Governor’s Christie’s deputy chief of staff and two of his top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create “traffic problems in Fort Lee” by shutting lanes to the George Washington Bridge and apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock.
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee’s mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world’s busiest.
These two paragraphs essentially will deep-six the Christie administration’s explanation that the lanes were closed due to a study, or any other explanations. And they’ll be seized on by Christie’s conservative Republican critics (who consider him a RINO) and Democratic critics (who consider him a threat if he gets the Republican Presidential nomination) who feel the Governor has gotten too easy a ride so far as he inches towards the national stage. But The Record’s report doesn’t get any better as it goes along — and puts these revelations into context:
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”
Other top Christie associates mentioned in or copied on the email chain, all after the top New York appointee at the authority ordered the lanes reopened, include David Samson, the chairman of the agency; Bill Stepien, Christie’s re-election campaign manager and the newly appointed state GOP chairman; and Michael Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman.
Here’s the part of the context that will hurt Christie the most:
Christie has previously said that no one in his staff or campaign was involved in the lane closings, and he has dismissed questions about political retribution by joking that he moved the traffic cones himself.
But the private messages, mostly sent through personal e-mails accounts, indicate that Kelly, a senior staff member in the governor’s office, was involved in the planning and received updates during the week of the traffic jams. She was also informed that week that Christie’s executives at the Port Authority were ignoring the Fort Lee mayor’s desperate attempts to get a reason for the sudden unannounced closures, as the borough’s first responders struggled to respond to emergencies and buses arrived late on the first day of school.
The report will likely mean some resignations, Christie seeking to put himself as far away from his staff member’s actions as New Jersey is from Honolulu — and increased media scrutiny on this issue and others involving Christie’s administration. This is now a hot, competitive story and editors will suspect there is more that could be dug out with relentless reporting and investigating. Also likely: some news reports that will try find a common thread between this story and other instances of the administration using power in a vindictive way.
None of above are helpful to someone who is tinkering with a run for the Oval Office and has political enemies in his own party and the opposition parties who intend to make sure he never gets there.
Be sure to GO HERE to see TMV Guest Cartoonist Mike Peter’s recent take on Christie and the bridge controversy. Cartoonists often seize on an image that exists in part of the public’s mind and create a cartoon based on that. This cartoon reflects how this story has grown and tarnished Christie’s image — even before The Record’s reporting added some confirmation to suspicions about why the closing occured.
SOME OTHER VIEWS:
Another massive shoe drops in the investigation of the unscheduled lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. The closures were initially claimed to be part of a “traffic study” and caused a massive traffic jam on the nation’s busiest bridge. But that claim has been cast into serious doubt as the closures now appear to be the result of a coordinated effort by officials appointed by Governor Chris Christie at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Christie’s personal and campaign staff to retaliate against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey by causing debilitating traffic in his town.
If the allegations are true, the lane closures would represent a petty and obnoxious abuse of authority, one worrisome in a potential president. Some may erroneously insist this is a display of toughness or hard-nosed political power, but the form of the vindictiveness punished Fort Lee commuters of all political stripes, not just the mayor. The state isn’t given the authority to shut down road lanes as a tool for enforcing political loyalty, and it’s rather shocking that this point needs to be made.
In other news, I am informed that objecting to this means you would prefer “a Sharon Angle-type” as the 2016 Republican presidential nominee, and that it is “absurd” to “link” Christie to e-mails sent by his deputy chief of staff.
Perhaps this is all the work of rogue low-level employees in the Cincinnati office.
Looks like the People’s Goombah has his mammary gland caught in the wringer! Now we will see a desperate attempt to tamp down the problem with a resignation from the senior staffer, but I doubt that will work. The fact is, the rest of the country is beginning to see Chris Christie as the ruthless bully he really is…
It’s a story that potentially has 2016 implications if Christie, a Republican, runs for the White House. The revelation also counters the governor’s denial that politics played any role. Democrats have suggested the closures were an attempt at political retribution for Ft. Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election effort last year.
Bombshell documents show that decisions that caused days of traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge — possibly in retaliation against a Democratic mayor who wouldn’t endorse Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) for reelection — reached closer to Christie than he has previously acknowledged.
Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, sent an August 13 email to former Port Authority Director of Interstate Capital Projects David Wildstein, a Christie ally: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) had declined to endorse Christie for re-election, unlike many other Democratic municipal officials in the state.
…which sheds some light on Christie’s December 13, 2013, claim that the the lane closures were “absolutely unequivocally not” political. The emails were obtained by the Bergen Record, and at first read, it seems pretty clear they should put an end to Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions, if not his second term.
How Gov. Chris Christie handles this widening scandal may not matter for Republican primary voters in Iowa or South Carolina, but for someone who has been a darling of the establishment media, it could change the color of Christie’s coverage and follow him into any potential 2016 bid for the presidency.
A cross-section of Tweets:
What does it say abt NJ that a Christie aide's chosen method of political revenge is creating traffic jam? http://t.co/T2FR5tm4LU
— Clyde Haberman (@ClydeHaberman) January 8, 2014
The emails tied to the George Washington Bridge scandal are so bad that Chris Christie canceled an opportunity today to curse out a teacher.
— Chris L. Robinson (@chrisLrob) January 8, 2014
Christie Cancels Public Event Amid Bridge Scandal Revelations http://t.co/4mB6Vmq0bA
— Jonathan Jewel (@JonathanJewel) January 8, 2014
RIP Chris Christie’s presidential hopes http://t.co/nkZFYYx3nl
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) January 8, 2014
I think Christie/Bridge scandal just went into near worst case scenario for Camp Christie http://t.co/nRYyObZ8Bm
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) January 8, 2014
hillary clinton: it takes a village. chris christie: burn down the bridge to the village.
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) January 8, 2014
Christie's possible role in the bridge closure: Stories like this hurt when they play into an existing perception. http://t.co/qAnJ3rwGJ7
— Katty Kay (@KattyKayBBC) January 8, 2014
"If we can do this in Trenton…the folks in Washington, DC should tune in their tvs right now to see how it’s done." http://t.co/uIDwNGgsRc
— John Dickerson (@jdickerson) January 8, 2014
I was completely skeptical about Christie's ties to the bridge-lane closure. but it's starting to not look that good http://t.co/RZCtg8Xi6h
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) January 8, 2014
Chris Christie's 2016 campaign is dead http://t.co/n8A2U9tewv
— Jonathan Chait (@jonathanchait) January 8, 2014
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” "Got it." Amazing exchange among Christie aides uncovered by The Record http://t.co/KL7CUTHMni
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) January 8, 2014
Christie aides were JOKING about the fact school buses couldn't get thru the massive traffic jam they orchestrated; http://t.co/a7airq2ln5
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) January 8, 2014
UPDATE: Charles Johnson voted for Christie. Here’s part of his take:
The governor not only needs to apologize to Fort Lee residents, but he needs to clean house of his staffers who went down this path.
I’m sure that local politicians are looking at whether criminal charges could be filed in relation to interfering with public safety by engaging in a political vendetta against the mayor.
It’s possibly actionable under the state’s Code of Criminal Justice. Various charges could include violating the Execution of Public Duty under 2C:3-3, Crime of corruption of public resources under 2C:27-12, and Obstructing Highways and Other Public Passages under 2C:33-7.
As with the NJ Transit rail fleet flooding debacle, Gov. Christie has let those involved get off easy. That has stop. He has to hold those involved accountable, and he has to take responsibility himself for these actions. Every day that he lets these staffers stay on in Trenton is another day that this scandal grows.
And I’m saying this as someone who voted for Christie. He personally did well in the Sandy aftermath excluding the NJ Transit rail fleet flooding flap, but this action has parallels to the NJ Transit mess. He’s let his underlings/staffers get off without so much as a slap on the wrist for engaging in actions that put state assets at risk (in the NJT instance) and lives at risk (in GWB lane closures).
He’s got to fire those involved and allow the AG or federal prosecutors to investigate this fully. You can’t engage in a political vendetta like this, where lives can be put at risk – and Fort Lee documented how police, fire and EMS were unable to respond quickly due to the traffic jams that blocked most of the city as a result of the lane closures to the bridge.
photo via Wikimedia Commons