More than 1,000 pages of anxiously awaited documents subpoenaed by
New Jersey lawmakers investigating the massive, four-day traffic jam
on the George Washington bridge were made public after revelations
that Christie's staff appeared to have orchestrated the closure as
Christie, seen as a likely contender for the White House in 2016,
has said he knew nothing about the plan until damaging emails from
his staff were revealed on Wednesday. He fired a close aide and
publicly apologized for the fiasco.
The documents, many subpoenaed from former Port Authority executive
David Wildstein, cast new light on the turmoil within the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency overseeing the
nation's busiest bridge.
On the fourth day of the shutdown, Patrick Foye, executive director
of the Port Authority, lashed out in an email to executives,
including Port Authority Chairman David Samson, and ordered the
"I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law
and the laws of both states," Foye said in the email.
"I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or
hospice-bound patient delayed," said Foye of the traffic jam that
delayed ambulances, including one called for a 91-year-old woman who
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who chairs the
Transportation Committee, said the documents raise more questions
than they answer about whether Christie knew about the traffic
"Included in these documents is 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," Wisniewski said in a statement.
"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 documents show chaos and anger, but fail to clear up whether the
epic tie-up was the result of what Christie said may have been a
Port Authority traffic study.
In a September 6 email, Port Authority executive Daniel Jacobs,
general manager of transportation, asked Gerard Quelch, in charge of
planning and operations: "What is driving this?"
Quelch responded: "That is my question as well. A single toll
operation invites potential disaster… It seems like we are punishing
all for the sake of a few."
What is clear is that Port Authority police and bridge authorities
had little advance notice of the shutdown, which they warned would
paralyze Fort Lee, where three major roadways converge in an
approach to the bridge.
"The 'test' was a monumental failure. Fort Lee is not happy," Bob
Durando, director of the bridge, wrote in an email to a Port
Authority traffic engineer.
There also appears to have been a concerted effort to keep the
matter quiet. On the day he ordered the lanes reopened, Foye in an
email told Wildstein's boss, Bill Baroni: "We are going to fix this
[to top of second column]
Baroni wrote back: "I'm on my way to the office to discuss. There
can be no public discourse."
Foye's response: "Bill that's precisely the problem: There has been
no public discourse on this."
Christie said he was "blindsided" by the revelation that Kelly
called for trouble at the commuter choke point, apparently to
retaliate against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not having
endorsed Christie's re-election campaign.
Christie had counted on his victory in November to show bipartisan
appeal to increase his chances of winning his party's nomination for
president, political experts have said.
Any implication in the documents released on Friday that Christie or
his staff knew more about the plot than they have acknowledged could
cause the scandal to dog Christie.
"He's not fully in control of this story anymore," said Julian
Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. "Because he
took such a firm stand yesterday and was emphatic that this was it,
any information that shows otherwise will continue the story and
force him to put more time on it."
Christie has long cultivated an image as a brash, tough-talking
leader willing to buck his party for the good of his constituents.
On Thursday, however, he took a more humble tone, saying: "I am not
U.S. attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held
before being elected governor, has opened an investigation into the
decision to close the bridge lanes.
The governor also faces a class-action lawsuit filed in federal
court on Thursday by Rosemarie Arnold, a lawyer charging that area
residents suffered financially from being trapped in traffic.
Wildstein has admitted to ordering the lane closures and resigned
his post. Appearing before the panel on Thursday, he declined to
answer questions, invoking the constitutional protection not to say
anything that might incriminate him.
Christie cut ties with a senior adviser and fired his then deputy
chief of staff Bridget Kelly, who wrote to Wildstein in August:
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein, a Christie
appointee, replied: "Got it."
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Bernard Vaughan, Marina
Lopes, James Lunt, Zach Cook, Hillary Russ; writing by Scott Malone
and Barbara Goldberg; editing by Gunna Dickson)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.