By Todd Beamon
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after dodging questions earlier Saturday about a former appointee's accusations that the Republican knew about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge while they were happening, went into full attack mode later in the afternoon.
“Bottom line - David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” says a 700-word email Christie's office sent to supporters and obtained by Politico and other news outlets. It referred to the man who orchestrated lane closures on the bridge that triggered the bridge-gate scandal.
It carried the headline: "5 Things You Should Know About the Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell."
The email blasted Wildstein and slammed The New York Times for shoddy reporting.
Wildstein resigned from the agency in December in light of the closures, which created massive gridlock on the world's busiest bridge for four days last September. The Port Authority operates the bridge connecting New Jersey with New York City.
A letter from Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, said on 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 email starts off by attacking the Times' reporting of Wildstein's 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.'"
Initially, the Times reported that Wildstein claimed "he had the evidence to prove it," while later versions cited the lawyer’s "evidence exists" terminology, according to Politico.
Further, the email said: "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 Jan. 8."
The email then launches into a personal attack on Wildstein, whom Christie appointed to the Port Authority post and has known since high school.
"In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as 'tumultuous' and someone who 'made moves that were not productive,'" the message said.
"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."
The "evidence exists" disclosure was in one paragraph of Zegas' two-page letter he wrote to the Port Authority asking it to reconsider its decision not to pay Wildstein's legal bills.
Besides the Times, the letter also was published by New Jersey's two largest newspapers, The Record and The Star-Ledger.
In Jan. 9 testimony before a committee of the New Jersey Assembly that is investigating the scandal, Wildstein repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendments rights in response to questions from legislators.
The tone of the email from Christie's office on Saturday contrasted sharply with that of his office's reaction on Friday.
"Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the governor has said all along," Friday's statement began. "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 Dec. 13 press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his Jan. 9 press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of Jan. 8.
"The governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions," the statement concluded.
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