Updated: January 8, 2014 11:31 AM
One of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) closest aides was involved in the discussion about the order to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September, snarling traffic in the town of Fort Lee.
Documents obtained Wednesday by TPM show that Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, Bridget Anne Kelly, talked about the closures with the agency that oversees the bridge weeks before they ocurred.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in an Aug. 13 email to David Wildstein, one of Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
It’s not clear from the documents, which have been heavily redacted in some parts, whether Kelly meant the traffic problems were the motivation for the closure or the effect of it.
On Aug. 28, Wildstein emailed Kelly to say he wanted to speak with her on the phone about Fort Lee. They apparently connected on Aug. 30 when Kelly sent an email indicating she would call him “in about an hour.”
“That will undoubtedly be the highlight of my day,” wrote Wildstein.
Christie has repeatedly denied he played any role in the decision to shut the lanes. Wildstein, a close ally and former high school classmate of Christie’s, ordered the bridge’s general manager to carry out the closures on Sept. 6 and the closures began Sept. 9.
Some Democrats have alleged the order to shut the lanes was retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, who had declined to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
On Wednesday, after the documents became public, Sokolich said he agreed.
“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.”
Other communications among the subpoenaed documents show Wildstein requesting “radio silence” after Sokolich called Port Authority describing the gridlock as an “urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee” and asking for an explanation.
“His name comes right after mayor Fulop,” Wildstein wrote in an apparent reference to Democratic Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
On Sept. 9 and Sept. 10, Wildstein was apparently receiving ongoing updates about the “traffic disaster” in Fort Lee. On Sept. 10, Wildstein said to someone via text message that Fort Lee’s mayor had reached out to Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, expressing worries about “getting kids to school.”
“Help please. It’s maddening,” Sokolich wrote in a message to Baroni.
That message appears to have been passed on to Wildstein who wrote, “Is it wrong that I am smiling?”
It is unclear who Wildstein was corresponding with, however the recipient of his message said, “No.”
“I feel badly about the kids,” wrote Wildstein. “I guess.”
“They are the children of Buono voters,” joked Wildstein’s correspondent, referring to Christie’s challenger in last November’s election, Barbara Buono.
Wildstein and Baroni have said the lanes were closed as a result of a traffic study.
An email from Wildstein to Kelly on Sept. 6 indicated Wildstein approved a “traffic study” requested by the mayor of Springfield, N.J. It’s unclear whether that traffic study had anything to do with the lane closures. The email said the traffic study was “for Morris Avenue.” Morris Avenue in Springfield is more than 25 miles from the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee.
Both Wildstein and Baroni resigned from their positions at Port Authority last month as questions about the lane closures mounted. The New Jersey Assembly’s Transportation Committee subpoenaed Wildstein, Baroni, and five other officials for any correspondence between Port Authority officials and the Christie administration. Based on documents obtained in those subpoenas Wildstein was ordered to testify at a hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he was not notified of the traffic closures. He ordered the lanes re-opened Sept. 13. That day, Wildstein emailed Kelly to notify her the lane closures were reversed.
“The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate,” wrote Wildstein in an apparent reference to another Christie appointee at Port Authority, Chairman David Samson.
“What??” Kelly replied.
Other emails indicate Wildstein and Baroni were in communication with Christie’s press secretary Michael Drewniak, Kelly, and others in the Christie administration as Sokolich and the media raised questions about the closures.
Texts from Baroni to Wildstein contain what seem to be messages from Sokolich expressing “frustration” that the closures seem to be the result of someone being “mad at me.” Baroni referred to those messages as coming, “from Serbia,” an apparent mistaken reference to Sokolich being Croatian.
Wildstein also discussed coverage of the closures with Christie’s campaign manager Bill Stepien on Sept. 18.
“It’s fine. The mayor is an idiot, though,” wrote Stepien.
Wildstein indicated that he “had empty boxes ready to take to work today” when he saw an article about the closures. He also implied the traffic jam would cause political problems for Sokolich.
“It will be a tough November for this little Serbian,” Wildstein wrote.
Wildstein, Baroni, Kelly, and Drewniak did not immediately respond to requests for comment from TPM Wednesday.
Read the documents here: