The world of New Jersey politics is clearly a small one.
We already knew top Republican lobbyist Jeff Michaels was the brother of a Port Authority cop who has come under scrutiny in the George Washington Bridge scandal. However, TPM has learned Michaels also has strong ties to another man involved in the growing investigation.
Michaels used to write for a politics website that, at the time, was run by David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who orchestrated the September lane closures on the bridge. Michaels’ name first came up in conjunction with the scandal over the weekend when an MSNBC report revealed that his brother, Port Authority Police Lt. Thomas “Chip” Michaels, drove Wildstein around the bridge during the closures and texted him updates on the ensuing traffic. The network also reported Chip Michaels had a personal connection to the governor, including coaching Christie’s son’s hockey team.
State lawmakers and federal prosecutors have been investigating allegations that Christie’s administration shut down lanes on the bridge in September to cause a traffic jam in nearby Fort Lee, N.J. because the mayor there refused to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. In recent days, authorities have taken a special interest in Lieutenant Michaels, with the Port Authority launching an internal probe and one New Jersey lawmaker saying she expects he will get a subpoena. Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, in December amid mounting questions about the closures. Records subpoenaed by the state Legislature’s committee investigating the matter later showed Wildstein played a role in the order to shut the lanes.
Prior to his appointment to the Port Authority, Wildstein anonymously edited the influential local news site PolitickerNJ.com using the pseudonym “Wally Edge.” Wildstein’s identity was revealed when he left the site to take the Port Authority job in June 2010.
Based on an archive of his postings on PolitickerNJ.com, Jeff Michaels wrote for the site from March 2009, when Wildstein was still its editor, up until August 2011. Other writers who worked for the site have said they were unaware of Wildstein’s identity until it became public. Jeff Michaels did not respond to a request for comment from TPM Tuesday about his relationship with Wildstein.
Jeff Michaels advised Christie’s first gubernatorial campaign in 2009 and has raised tens of thousands of dollars for pro-Christie groups. In February 2010, Michaels appeared on the television show “New Jersey Capital Report” where he was identified as a “columnist with PolitickerNJ.com.” On the show, Michaels described how close he and his family were with Christie.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Michaels said of the governor. “We went to high school with — we — our families knew each other from Livingston, and just stayed in close contact with him over the years and was very pleased to help his campaign out with policy.”
Along with Phillip Norcross, Jeff Michaels co-founded the political lobbying and strategy firm Optimus Partners LLC in late 2009. Norcross has been a close advisor to New Jersey state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D). Both Sweeney and Norcross’ brother, Camden County Democratic leader George Norcross, have long been seen as two of Christie’s most influential allies across the aisle. Optimus enjoyed skyrocketing profits after Christie took office in 2010.
Many of Jeff Michaels’ posts on PolitickerNJ defended Christie against attacks made during his 2009 campaign. Once Christie was elected, Michaels touted his achievements. In a post on the site published the morning after Christie was elected, Michaels expressed his joy.
“How sweet it is for the thousands of volunteers who worked since February to support this great man for NJ Governor. I am proud to be one of them,” he wrote.
He went on to praise Christie’s “iron will.”
“There should be no more doubters left in NJ about his sheer force of will and ability to accomplish great things,” Michaels wrote.