Exclusive: Chris Christie attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein
By: Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman
February 1, 2014 05:19 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after a low-key initial response to Friday’s explosive allegations about his involvement in a growing bridge-closing scandal, mounted an aggressive defense late Saturday afternoon, attacking The New York Times and a former political ally in an email to friends and allies obtained by POLITICO.
“Bottom line — David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” the email from the governor’s office says, referring to the former appointee who reignited the controversy.
A letter from Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan L. Zegas of Chatham, N.J., asserted Friday that “evidence exists … 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.”
The subject line of the 700-word email from the governor’s office is: “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell.”
The Christie camp begins by criticizing The Times for its initial characterization of the Wildstein letter: “A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually ‘evidence’ when it was a letter alleging that ‘evidence exists.’”
The Times’ initial story said that Wildstein claimed “he had the evidence to prove it,” while later versions stuck to his lawyer’s vaguer “evidence exists” formulation. Neither the Times nor Wildstein’s lawyer responded to a request for comment Saturday evening.
The email continues: “As he has said repeatedly, Governor Christie had no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein’s scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge. … The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact. Even then he was under the belief it was a traffic study. He first learned David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly closed lanes for political purposes when it was reported on January 8th.”
Then, it gets personal. “In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as ‘tumultuous’ and someone who ‘made moves that were not productive,’” the email continues. “David Wildstein has been publicly asking for immunity since the beginning, been held in contempt by the New Jersey legislature for refusing to testify, failed to provide this so-called ‘evidence’ when he was first subpoenaed by the NJ Legislature and is looking for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.”
Christie praised Wildstein’s tenure when he resigned late last year after being sought for testimony by the Assembly committee investigating the lane closures. Wildstein has long been portrayed as a close friend of Christie’s, and included in the email from the governor’s office is a story from the Bergen Record headlined, “Ex Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority.”
But during his news conference in January, Christie disputed that the two men have a longtime bond or close personal friendship.
Wildstein’s letter, the latest step for a disgraced official who has made clear publicly that he wants immunity from prosecution, appeared to be timed for maximum effect right before the Super Bowl. Just days earlier, that had looked like a triumphant moment for Christie, and the media firestorm over the scandal seemed to be receding somewhat.
The lane closures occurred as Christie was running for reelection, and some Democrats have alleged the lanes were shut to punish the Democratic mayor of the town, who declined to endorse Christie. Emails written by aides about the closures suggest they were conceived as political retaliation.
After POLITICO posted the email, Michael Czin, national press secretary of the Democratic National Committee, said in an email to reporters: “f what Christie says about Wildstein in his oppo-dump is true, why did Christie’s administration appoint him to such a senior position at the Port Authority? We’ve seen plenty of bluster and attacks from team Christie in recent weeks, but what we haven’t seen are any explanations as to why the Christie Administration shut down the lanes.”
In response to the Czin question, when it was posed by a reporter to Christie’s office, an official told POLITICO: “Over the last month, we’re seeing a fuller picture of who Wildstein really was. The fact that he punitively shut down lanes on a bridge for political purposes overshadows anything he had done previously.”
Christie initially offered a more reserved response to the allegations from Wildstein on Friday evening. “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. 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.”
In a late-night follow-up, the governor’s office added: “Just to clear up any lingering confusion: Governor Christie has said each time he has been asked that he first learned about the closing of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge from press accounts after the instance was over.”
Wildstein pleaded the Fifth when state lawmakers called him to testify before a panel investigating the closures earlier this month. Wildstein’s lawyer has previously said that if Wildstein “has immunity from the relevant entities, he’ll talk.”
See the full text of Saturday’s email here.