New documents released under subpoena by a Chris Christie ally quote an aide close to the New Jersey governor as saying that it was "[t]ime for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" — the town that suffered massive traffic problems in September which, its mayor claims, was retribution for his not endorsing Christie's reelection.
The controversy was been roiling for several months now, with both David Wildstein, that long-time Christie ally and friend, and his boss at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, resigning from the agency as the New Jersey Assembly investigates the traffic jams. For a week in September, coinciding with the first week of school, several lanes of access to the heavily-trafficked George Washington Bridge were inexplicably closed, taking the town of Fort Lee, at the bridge's western end, completely by surprise. The disruption lasted for four days, eventually ending on Friday of the week after the town's mayor, Mark Sokolich, wrote a letter to the agency. In that letter, he suggested that the closures were "punitive."
The documents, obtained by obtained by The Bergen County Record and shared on Twitter by the Wall Street Journal's Tedd Mann, seem to reinforce Sokolich's concerns. In Mann's formulation, "The email exchange is the clearest sign that a series of lane closures on the bridge in September were carried out at the behest of high-ranking members of Mr. Christie's administration."
Update, 5:40 p.m.: The Record also added a new detail later in the day to reports that the traffic delays slowed emergency vehicles: one elderly woman later died.
The first document, released by Wildstein in response to a subpoena according to The Record, is an email from Bridget Anne Kelly, a senior staff member in Christie's administration.
That email message (to which Wildstein tersely replied "Got it") arrived in August. From The Record:
[T]he private messages, mostly sent through personal e-mails accounts, indicate that Kelly, a senior staff member in the governor’s office, was involved in the planning and received updates during the week of the traffic jams. She was also informed that week that Christie’s executives at the Port Authority were ignoring the Fort Lee mayor’s desperate attempts to get a reason for the sudden unannounced closures, as the borough’s first responders struggled to respond to emergencies and buses arrived late on the first day of school.
In another document released by Wildstein, he and an unidentified person feign sympathy at the effect of the lane closures.
Barbara Buono was Christie's Democratic opponent in his reelection last year.
On Friday of that week, Wildstein emailed Kelly to tell her that the Port Authority's New York staff (the agency is jointly run by the two states) had unilaterally reopened the lanes. "What??" Kelly replied. Wildstein responded: "Yes, unreal. Fixed now".
In December, the New Jersey State Assembly started looking at the closures, which Baroni and Wildstein claimed was part of a traffic study. The head of the Port Authority indicated that no such study was underway. Wildstein resigned from the agency in November; Baroni followed him last month.
When Christie was asked about the growing scandal, he joked, "I moved the cones, actually, unbeknownst to everybody." That sarcastic dismissiveness of the issue is undermined significantly by these new documents — and could prove a significant problem for the 2016 hopeful.
Update, 5:00 p.m.: Christie released a statement.