Christie breaks silence on bridge scandal
By Andy Soltis and Beth DeFalco, NY Post
January 8, 2014 | 11:15am
Chris Christie’s top aide ordered crippling rush-hour lane closures at the George Washington Bridge to get back at the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to back the Jersey governor’s re-election bid, damning e-mails revealed Wednesday.
Christie, who had long denied foul play by his staff in the traffic mess, was not “cc’d” in the e-mails and claims that his closest, most trusted appointees kept him out of the loop on the plot
“I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,” he said in a written statement after canceling his only public appearance on Wednesday.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable.”
The Christie aide at the center of “Bridgegate” is his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who requested the lane closures in an August e-mail to Christie-appointed Port Authority executive David Wildstein.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote.
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
Two of three on-ramps to the bridge were closed during the morning rush from Sept. 9 to 12 — the first days of the new school year — causing hours-long backups on the streets of Fort Lee.
The delays were aimed squarely at Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who snubbed Christie’s request for a bipartisan endorsement.
When Sokolich complained in phone calls to the PA, Kelly asked Wildstein in an e-mail if anyone returned his calls.
“Radio silence,” he replied.
On the second day of lane closures, a sender whose name is redacted wrote Wildstein, “I feel bad about the kids.”
He replied, “They are the children of Buono voters” — referring to Democrat Barbara Buono, whom Christie defeated easily in the November gubernatorial election.
The lane closures were halted after four days by a PA official appointed by New York Gov. Cuomo.
Wildstein reacted in an e-mail, saying the Christie-appointed PA chairman, David Samson, “is helping us to retaliate” against the New York officials.
The PA blamed the surprise lane closures on a “traffic safety pattern” study.
Christie denied any involvement and said in December that the closures were “not a big deal.”
But Wildstein and Bill Baroni — another Christie appointee to the PA — resigned as New Jersey officials investigated the traffic tie-up. Christie claimed it was unrelated.
Baroni got a letter from Sokolich on the fourth day of the closures, saying they had “wreaked havoc upon our community,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
The gridlock delayed emergency responders in four medical situations.
Ambulances were slow to get to a 91-year-old woman who lay unconscious in the street, and she later died of cardiac arrest, according to The Record of Hackensack.
A state Assembly committee hearing is scheduled for tomorrow in Trenton — and Wildstein is scheduled to testify. But Wildstein’s lawyer has filed a lawsuit to block the subpoena.
New Jersey Democrats were furious at the e-mails.
“These are terrible people and shouldn’t be in office,” Buono said.
“How dare you schedule a man-made traffic disaster in my community?” said Sokolich.
Sokolich, who is of Croatian descent, was also angry that one of the e-mails referred to him as “this little Serbian.”
Christie vowed to clean up the mess.
“One thing is clear,” he said in his statement. “This type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”