Following the Money on Bridgegate

David Wildstein takes an oath during a hearing Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton. Wildstein, a former appointee of Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to answer questions from a legislative committee ... David Wildstein takes an oath during a hearing Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, at the Statehouse in Trenton. Wildstein, a former appointee of Gov. Chris Christie is refusing to answer questions from a legislative committee looking into a scandal involving punitive traffic lane closures. The Christie administration stands accused of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge, linking New York and New Jersey, in order to create a huge traffic backup as retribution against a local mayor for not endorsing the governor’s reelection. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) MORE LESS
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A couple very interesting new threads on the Bridgegate story. As I’ve mentioned, as the scope of the Bridge closure effort and the attempt to cover it up grow, payback for a small town Mayor’s Christie non-endorsement has seemed increasingly implausible as a motive. This morning Brian Murphy went on Steve Kornacki’s show to discuss a major billion dollar development project which would have been gravely impacted (perhaps scuttled altogether) by any permanent move to create a traffic choke point in Fort Lee. (There’s an important disclosure that both men have been very forthcoming about: both worked for Wildstein in former lives when Wildstein ran a NJ politics website called But before getting to that there’s another aspect of this story which I think deserves attention.

We know that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was on the phones with basically everyone as soon as the traffic started piling up last September 9th. But there’s something about the nature of his correspondence with Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni. He repeatedly goes out of his way to make clear he wants things handled quietly, without the press or politics getting pulled into the mix. In fact he appears to want the communication to be solely between them.

When Sokolich pens that now widely reported September 12th letter to Baroni, he writes …

“I am writing this correspondence to you and refraining from copying any other party in the hopes that a recent decision by the Port Authority will be reversed quietly, uneventfully and without political fanfare.”

And then towards the end of the letter he adds …

“Query: What do I do when our billion dollar redevelopment is put on line at the end of the next year?” [Ex: A, pp. 647-48]

Then in another instance, Kelly and Wildstein are discussing other Sokolich approaches to Baroni. Here Kelly texts Wildstein: messages that have been sent from Sokolich to Baroni:

“We should talk. Someone needs to tell me that the recent traffic debacle was not punitive in nature. The last four reporters that contacted me suggest that the people they are speaking with absolutely believe it to be punishment. Try as I may to dispel these rumors I am having a tough time … A private face-to-face would be important to me. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to the errors of my ways. Let me know if you’ll give me 10 minutes. Regards Mark.” [Ex: A, pp. 753-54]

Now, one possible explanation for this is simply that Sokolich believes he has a much better chance of getting this resolved if politics or press attention doesn’t get added to the mix. That is definitely a plausible and potentially sufficient explanation. But the logic can just as easily go in the opposite direction.

It seems like there’s maybe more going on here – not cc’ing any colleagues on emails, asking for face to face meetings, signaling so clearly that he’s not trying to make trouble. It just seems to go a bit beyond what you’d expect. And it may fit if Sokolich knew that the underlying issue was tied to high-stakes business investments – transactions which were not illegal or unethical but might not welcome or be helped by high-octane press attention.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Sokolich necessarily has dirty hands in this story. But I think he may have had more of a sense of what this was about than has yet come to light.

Next is that theory floated by Brian Murphy on the Kornacki show this morning.

This is highly speculative, to be sure. And in the absence of a solid explanation for why all this happened we’re likely to see more. But a billion dollar development project – as opposed to the endorsement of the Mayor of a small north Jersey town – is the kind of thing that will make people do crazy stuff.

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