The letter from a former official at the agency that oversees the
busiest U.S. bridge sparked a quick response from Christie, who
again denied wrongdoing, and prompted a top New Jersey newspaper to
suggest the governor could face impeachment.
David Wildstein, who resigned his Port Authority post late last
year, said in a letter that he had proof of the "inaccuracy" of some
of Christie's statements about the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal,
which polls show has already started to weigh on Christie's
potential 2016 White House bid.
Since the scandal first came to light, Christie has denied knowing
the cause of the George Washington Bridge lane closings, which
occurred after the mayor of Fort Lee declined to endorse the
governor in a re-election bid and caused four days of massive
traffic jams in that city.
"It's the first time a high-level official has contradicted the
governor," said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history
professor who specializes in presidential politics.
The letter does not indicate that Christie orchestrated the closures
in any way, does not specify exactly when he became aware of the
jams, and offers no evidence to back up the claim.
"Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the
governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,"
the letter said.
Wildstein and Christie attended Livingston High School at the same
time, but Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has denied knowing
One key question is exactly when and how Christie learned of the
closures, said Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat.
"There aren't enough facts. I'm not rooting for him to know or not
to know. I will tell you, I remain very, very concerned about it,"
Sokolich told CNN. "If it was known at the very tail end, possibly,
I'm not sure what this letter means at all."
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who has led the investigation into the
lane closures, told CNN late Friday that "these are serious
allegations, because what Mr. Zegas's letter is saying is — you
shouldn't believe the governor."
"But we need to see the documents to see whether there's any merit
to that claim, to not believe the governor."
The key question, Zelizer said, is whether Wildstein can produce
"smoking gun" evidence proving Christie's knowledge of the events.
State Democrats probing the scandal are likely to jump on that
vulnerability, Zelizer added.
The Newark Star-Ledger, one of New Jersey's largest newspapers,
which endorsed Christie in his 2013 re-election bid, posted an
editorial after the New York Times first reported about the letter,
saying that if the accusations are true, the governor must resign or
"Because it will show that everything he said at his famous two-hour
press conference was a lie," the editorial said.
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The paper had not endorsed Christie's initial run in 2009.
The Democratic National Committee, already targeting Christie, who
won re-election in a landslide last November, as its greatest threat
in the 2016 presidential election, was quick to pounce.
"He's repeatedly said that he had no knowledge of the lane
closures," said Mo Elleithee, a DNC spokesman. "Today's revelations
raise serious questions about whether that is true."
Polls taken since the emails emerged early this month showing
Christie's now-fired deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly,
calling for "traffic" in Fort Lee, show Christie's popularity
slipping in theoretical 2016 White House and primary matchups.
"If we assume it's true, then we're in the realm of an outright lie
on the part of the governor, and that changes the entire story,"
said David Redlawsk, a New Jersey pollster. "It's the cover-up that
As for Wildstein, Redlawsk said, "It very much sounds like the
message is quite clear to the U.S. Attorney's Office: Tell us what
you need, and we'll cooperate."
The scandal has tarnished Christie's reputation as a politician
ready to reach across the aisle at a time when partisan gridlock has
Christie bolstered his image as conciliator in 2012 when he walked
beside President Barack Obama along the storm-hit New Jersey
coastline after Superstorm Sandy, in the final months of the 2012
presidential campaign — a move that some supporters of Republican
contender Mitt Romney said hurt their party's chances of retaking
the White House.
In the marathon January 9 press conference, Christie repeatedly
apologized for actions he blamed on his aides, expressed his shock
and said: "I am who I am, but I am not a bully."
(Writing by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson)
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