They knew it was coming.
They could almost smell it — as the media smelled something about the George Washington Bridge lane closures that have seemingly for now derailed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s fast-track as a potential 2016 Presidential nominee. The Record reports that emails show some of Christie’s allies desperately tried to keep a lid on to stem the flow of infomration about what increasingly appears to be a political motivated payback on the part of camp Christie to make the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee pay a price for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid:
Some of Governor Christie’s closest loyalists made an effort to keep information about the George Washington Bridge lane closures out of public view for months, as questions swirled about what now appears to have been a politically motivated vendetta, thousands of documents released Friday show.
The documents provide a sweeping timeline of the internal deliberations taking place among at least 10 of Christie’s trusted aides. They stretch from the weeks before the September lane closings up to and beyond the November election and are punctuated with vulgarities aimed at the media and signs of tension between New York and New Jersey officials who share control of the agency that operates the bridge.
The documents also show that Port Authority Chairman David Samson, Christie’s top appointee at the agency, blamed a New York official — the one who reopened the lanes and said the closings were possibly illegal — for a leak to the media.
What will give this story “legs” is the smelliness of it — apart from the slew of lawsuits and lawyers who will be able to buy new condos on the beach in La Jolla with the eventual settlements. If there’s a resemblance to the far bigger “Watergate,” it’s the emerging portrait of a team almost giddy with using power and trying to keep a lid on their use of power and why they used it. Indeed, the motive for the slowdown has not yet been fully established. MORE:
Christie’s spokesman in Trenton, meanwhile, was informed of a statement issued by the Port Authority during the week of the lane closing asserting they were part of a study of traffic safety patterns — a contention that has since been undermined. The same spokesman, Michael Drewniak, engaged in expletive-laced name-calling of reporters who were looking into the closures, emails show. The agency repeatedly ignored outside inquiries at the behest of New Jersey officials, the emails show.
The unfolding scandal has already felled four officials responsible for the lane diversions that began when a high-ranking Christie staffer sent an explosive email: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Nothing in the approximately 2,000 documents released on Friday by the Assembly committee investigating the matter suggest that Christie knew of the lane closure scheme beforehand. And they shed little new light on whether administration officials targeted the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee because he did not endorse Christie.
But they do show professionals within the agency predicted a “potential disaster” for motorists.
And they illustrate that the advice of Samson and Drewniak was often sought as Christie’s loyalists inside and outside the agency fended off inquiries from legislators and media and held firm to their initial assertion that there was a traffic study.
How damning is the sea of emails being released — and being read by bloggers and reporters who will be passing parts of the treasure trove onto the public?
Here’s a sample from the Huffington Post, which runs some of the emails:
Fort Lee, N.J., was a mess, plain and simple, those four days in September when two of the borough’s three access lanes to the busiest bridge in the country were closed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) cronies. Traffic backed up onto the local roads of Fort Lee, causing major problems.
New emails released by the New Jersey State Assembly give more details of residents panicking, beginning the morning of Sept. 9 and lasting until the lanes were reopened on Sept. 13. No one in Fort Lee was given any warning of the lane closures, meaning they were completely unprepared for the chaos. People were late to work, the police department was forced to direct traffic instead of responding to emergencies, there was an accident involving a school bus and one exasperated resident threatened to take his complaint all the way to the White House.
Shortly after noon on Sept. 9, Lisa Herrera, a senior business manager at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, wrote an email to Robert Durando, general manager of the George Washington Bridge. She said she was already getting complaints and told of one man who was late to his new job:
Go to the link to read that email and others.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.