The former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive who directed the George Washington Bridge lane closures said in a letter sent through his lawyer on Friday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) knew about the closures when they were happening.
The assertion contradicts the account of the scandal offered by Christie, who has said numerous times that he knew nothing of the closures.
The letter, obtained first by The New York Times, was sent by an attorney representing David Wildstein, the former executive, to Darrell Buchbinder, the general counsel of the Port Authority. The letter describes the September lane closures, which caused a multi-day traffic jam in the town of Fort Lee, N.J., as “the Christie administration’s order.” It also says that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference.”
“Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter also says.
In a statement released Friday, the Christie administration responded to the allegations in the letter.
“Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with,” the administration said in an emailed statement. “As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”
The motivation for the letter, which was sent by Wildstein’s attorney, Alan Zegas, appears to have been the Port Authority’s recent decision to not pay Wildstein’s legal bills. Zegas asks that the Port Authority reconsider that decision, and that the agency also pay Wildstein’s legal fees and indemnify him “for any civil lawsuits that are instituted against the Port Authority where Mr. Wildstein is named or any proceedings in which Mr. Wildstein is a party or a person under investigation as a result of conduct occurring while he was employed by the Port Authority.”
At the time of the lane closures, Wildstein served as the director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority. On Dec. 6, as pressure mounted over the lane closings scandal, Wildstein announced his resignation from the agency. He then figured prominently in the subpoenaed documents released as a result of a state legislative investigation into the incident. He was the recipient of former Christie aide Bridget Kelly’s infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email.
On Jan. 9, Wildstein appeared before the New Jersey Assembly’s transportation committee and refused to answer questions about the scandal.
“I respectfully reserve my right to remain silent,” Wildstein told lawmakers.
At a press conference that same day, Christie told reporters that he was not directly involved in the lane closures.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here,” Christie said. “Regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover, this was handled in a callous and indifferent way, and is not the way this administration has conducted itself over the last four years, and not the way it will conduct itself over the next four.”
Read Zegas’ letter:
This post has been updated.