DOCS SHED NEW LIGHT ON CHRISTIE BRIDGE SCANDAL
Port Authority Head Seethed Over Fort Lee Lane Closures: 'I Pray That No Life Has Been Lost'
Jason Cherkis | 01/10/2014 | HuffPost
WASHINGTON -- Emails released Friday by the New Jersey Assembly underscore the dangerous situation New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) aides created by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, with the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey worrying that people may have died.
In an email to subordinates the morning of Sept. 13 -- several days into the lane closures -- Patrick Foye, Port Authority executive director, said he believed traffic congestion may have hindered first responders. "This hasty and ill-advised decision has resulted in delays to emergency vehicles," he wrote. "I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital-or hospice-bound patient delayed."
The lane closings did delay emergency personnel from responding to four incidents, including a 91-year-old suffering cardiac arrest, who later died.
The closures were ordered by then-Port Authority official David Wildstein, an appointee of Christie's. The Port Authority, which operates the bridge, is run by both New York and New Jersey. Foye is an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Neither Wildstein nor his boss, Bill Baroni, who has also since resigned, ever notified Foye that they would be closing two of the three bridge access lanes in Fort Lee on Sept. 9.
In his Sept. 13 email, sent at 7:44 a.m., Foye said he was ordering the lanes immediately reopened.
While Christie and his administration originally maintained that the closures were due to a traffic study, emails released this week by the New Jersey state Assembly, obtained through a subpoena, show that it was actually a scheme that involved Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and his top political adviser, Bill Stepien. Christie has since cut ties with both.
The emails suggest the closings were political payback, possibly over Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's (D) refusal to endorse the heavily favored Christie for governor in November.
Days into the traffic bottleneck, Foye seethed. "To be clear," he wrote in his email, "I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for; I intend to learn how PA process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged to say nothing of the credibility of this agency."
Foye also wrote: "I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal law and the laws of both States."
The office of the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey announced it was launching an investigation into whether the closures were criminal.
Before the lane shutdown, some Port Authority officials questioned its purpose. Gerard Quelch, who headed the authority's planning and operations, wrote colleagues: "A single toll lane operation invites potential disaster...It seems like we are punishing all for the sake of a few. Very confused."
While the toll closures would cause concern within the ranks of the Port Authority and anger Fort Lee officials, Wildstein wanted to watch his handiwork up close. In an email the day before the closures, he wrote to a subordinate: "Will be at bridge early Monday am to view new lane test."
Soon after Foye sent his email, Baroni forwarded the message to David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority -- a Christie appointee. He attached a note: "General, can I call you on this now?"
Samson has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the lane closures.
In a subsequent email on the morning of Sept. 13, Baroni wrote Foye directly that he was on his way into the office and wanted to discuss the controversy further. Then he offered what appears to be a warning to his superior: "There can be no public discourse."
Foye wasn't having it. He replied: "Bill that's precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse on this."
Sentiment: Strong Buy
No matter what Chrisite is toast.
1. Everyone hates a bully but as long as he is powerful no one threatens to do anything. But the minute he falls anyone who he has bullied along with friends and family will come out of hiding to kick him in the head.
2. Traffic jams happen all the time. Who in NJ will not think of Christie when they are in a traffic jam?
3. His worst enemies are from the right who consider him a RINO. In their demented minds they think that a "pure" candidate like Cruz, Paul or Palin will actually be able to win the presidency. Chrisite was the best hope, now who? The clown show will continue. Too bad because some of the democratic ideas are not very good and need some intelligent pushback.
Elk your reaching. no one gives a sh--t. Lmao 74000 jobs created in nov half were part time . Now that what people care about. Traffic , you look like an fool. Traffic who cares. Let call it cone gate. Lmao again
Re: "Elk your reaching. no one gives a sh--t. Lmao 74000 jobs created in nov half were part time . Now that what people care about. Traffic , you look like an fool. Traffic who cares. Let call it cone gate. Lmao again"
acehole, once again you show how stupid you are as well as contemptuous of regular citizens incredibly inconvenienced and willingly even put in danger for 4 days (300,000 vehicles per day, the busiest bridge in the world and like just like Christie you belittle and joke aboutit). Christies chances for becoming President are gone and his Governorship may soon be gone as well. If facts (and many more of them are coming out as we speak) show him to have been involved in this in any way he will richly deserve loss of his political career.
Sentiment: Strong Buy
DOCS SHOW SCRAMBLE OVER N.J. BRIDGE FLAP
By: Elizabeth Titus | January 10, 2014 | Politico
TRENTON, N.J. — State lawmakers released an avalanche of new documents Friday on the bridge scandal plaguing Chris Christie’s administration, including some that show how the governor’s appointees and others tried to contain the fallout as controversy grew.
The documents also provided glimpses of commuters’ frustrations during the turmoil caused by September’s sudden shutdowns of two lanes to the bridge, an act that a top official who ordered the lanes reopened wrote may have violated federal law. And they included material portraying the closures as being part of a traffic study, a study that same top official said had not been properly authorized.
The debacle has damaged the reputation of Christie, the New Jersey governor who had been considered a potential GOP frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race.
For months he had downplayed the four-day traffic mess and insisted his staff had nothing to do with it. But earlier this week, emails and texts emerged suggesting that some of his aides and allies apparently engineered the closing of the lanes. The messages also bolstered Democrats’ claims that the lanes were closed to exact political vengeance against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., the town most affected by the traffic jams. The mayor is a Democrat who, unlike many in his party, had not endorsed Christie for reelection.
A Democratic-controlled state panel investigating the George Washington Bridge issue posted the new subpoenaed documents online Friday.
The documents, which ran into hundreds of pages, included an email by Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in which he ordered the lanes reopened on Sept. 13 and and blasted the decision to close them. Foye said that a number of standards had been ignored in ordering the lanes closed — including not notifying key law enforcement agencies — and that he believed “this hasty and ill-advised decision violates federal law and the laws of both states.”
Foye addressed the email to Port Authority officials including Bill Baroni and Chairman David Samson, both Christie appointees. The documents show that Baroni forwarded the email to David Wildstein, another Christie-appointed Port Authority official. Baroni also followed up on the message with Samson, asking if he could call him about it. Baroni and Wildstein both quit their positions late last year as the controversy grew.
Christie defended Samson at a press conference on Thursday.
“I am convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level and never brought to the attention of the Board of Commissioners until Chairman Foye wrote his email — or Executive Director Foye wrote his email to the Board of Commissioners,” Christie said. Samson has also said separately he did not know about the closures ahead of time.
After hearing that the lanes had been reopened, Foye sought communications advice, but Baroni told him they needed to discuss things first, according to the documents.
“Bill we are going to fix this fiasco,” Foye wrote.
“I am on my way to office to discuss,” Baroni wrote back. “There can be no public discourse.”
“Bill that’s precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse on this,” Foye wrote.
One exhibit included in the documents was a presentation of several pages that showed the changes in the traffic patterns that resulted from closing the two lanes — one sign of the extensive discussions that took place as if the closures were part of a traffic study, even as information revealed Wednesday indicated the closures were triggered by an aide in Christie’s office. One finding in the presentation was that the lane closures delayed traffic on “local” streets.
It was not immediately clear whether any of the documents explicitly identified the traffic study as a cover story, nor which employees named in the documents may have believed they were working on an authentic and properly authorized study.
An initial vetting of the documents did not turn up any material suggesting Christie was aware of what had transpired.
The documents include a transcript of Wildstein’s hearing before a state legislative committee on Thursday, where he pleaded the Fifth. They also include seven exhibits submitted by Wildstein, Baroni and others.
Relationships between the media, Christie’s staff and the Port Authority were on display in the documents, many of which revealed discussions about how the transit agency should handle questions about the closures from The Wall Street Journal, The Record (N.J.) and other publications.
In one instance in October, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak responded to questions from Star-Ledger reporter Steve Strunsky. Then, switching to his Gmail account, Drewniak forwarded the exchange to Wildstein.
“Such a f— mutt,” Drewniak wrote. “See below…”
Wildstein, also using Gmail, then forwarded the exchange to Baroni.
The governor is not dismissing Drewniak in light of the latest release of documents, spokesman Colin Reed said. After deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly was linked to the closures in Wednesday’s emails, Christie said he had fired her for lying to him. Christie also distanced himself from former campaign manager Bill Stepien, whose name surfaced in the messages, saying he had “lost confidence in his judgement.”
Commuters’ frustrations were illustrated in emails such as one sent to bridge manager Robert Durando on the first day of the closures.
“I just got another call from a patron,” said the email from Lisa Herrera, whom The Record has previously identified as a manager in the Port Authority’s bridges and tunnels department. “She says that the Port Authority ‘doesn’t care about their customers and they are playing God with people’s jobs.’ Her husband was 40 minutes late to a job that he just got after being out of work for over a year.”
In a news conference Thursday, the governor insisted he played no role in any alleged plot to engineer the traffic mess and decried the “abject stupidity” of the aides apparently involved.
An email from Kelly released Wednesday has her writing “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” weeks before the lanes were closed on Sept. 9. In response to her, Wildstein wrote: “Got it,” according to the documents.
Additional messages released Wednesday showed Christie aides gloating over the traffic problems being caused in Fort Lee, dismissing concerns about children being late getting to school, and making denigrating remarks about the Fort Lee mayor.
State committee chairman John Wisniewski said in a statement Friday that the new documents raised at least two “glaring” questions for him. First, he said, “it’s obvious that senior members of the governor’s staff were involved in spin control once this story broke.”
“When they were preparing spin control, how could they not have been given the whole story?” Wisniewski asked.
Second, he said, “a reference to what appears to be a meeting between Port Authority Chairman David Samson and the governor one week before Bridget Kelly issued the order to cause ‘traffic problems’ in Fort Lee. By submitting these documents, Mr. Wildstein is telling us they are related to the lane closures in some way. The question that demands answering is how?”
The alleged meeting reference was made in what looks like a series of text messages, but it’s unclear who was participating in the conversation. The messages are dated Aug. 5, the week before Kelly’s infamous Aug. 13 email and about a month before the traffic jam. Wildstein is presumed to be one of the people in the conversation because he provided the document, said a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Assembly Democratic majority office.
“Samson can not do Friday 8/16,” one person said.
“I will see what can be done,” the other person said. “Likely nothing. … It’s the only day that works for the Gov.”
It’s unclear whether any meeting happened on Aug. 16, who all attended or what exactly it was about.
A spokesman for Christie did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest documents.
Sentiment: Strong Buy