Michael Drewniak, Christie's long-time press secretary, appeared
for the first time before a legislative panel in Trenton that is
looking into the September incident, which occurred in the midst of
Christie's successful re-election campaign, and why the apparent
abuse of power was able to occur.
The incident has been deeply embarrassing for Christie, a prominent
Republican mulling a possible 2016 run for the White House, although
the governor has emphatically denied he had any involvement in or
knowledge of it.
The shutdown over four days of access lanes connecting Fort Lee, New
Jersey, and the George Washington Bridge, the busiest span in the
country, caused massive traffic tie-ups, delaying school buses,
ambulances and commuters trying to enter New York City.
The plan was apparently orchestrated by two former Christie
appointees in an effort to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee
for not endorsing Christie's re-election.
One of those aides, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's ex-deputy chief
of staff, sent a now-infamous email saying "time for some traffic
problems in Fort Lee."
Drewniak told the panel he was blindsided by this "strange,
unnecessary and idiotic episode that brought us here today," and
felt betrayed by both Kelly and David Wildstein, a Christie
appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which
manages the bridge.
Drewniak said Wildstein, whom he considered a friend, had assured
him the tie-ups were due to a legitimate traffic study. Drewniak
said he was unaware of the disruptions in Fort Lee, or allegations
the lane closures were punitive, until he began receiving media
inquires about the "Bridgegate" scandal.
Under grilling by lawmakers about why he had not taken more
seriously ongoing questions about the incident, Drewniak said he
believed the allegations were the work of an overzealous media and
"He (Wildstein) took advantage of my wanting to believe in him for
all the right reasons," Drewniak said. "The disappointment that I
was dealing with someone that could conduct such a thing... I was
embarrassed by it."
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Both Wildstein and Kelly have left their government jobs, and
neither has addressed the incident publicly.
Drewniak said he met Wildstein for dinner last December as the Port
Authority official came under pressure to resign amid the growing
At that dinner, Wildstein "was apologetic about how badly it was
handled," but never admitted the scheme was politically motivated,
"He said ‘I created this whole idea for a traffic study, but I let
others know about it,'" Drewniak said. "My clear impression was that
he wanted me to take this back to the administration, he wanted to
stay on, and also if there was a presidential run, he wanted to be
part of that."
An investigation commissioned by the governor's office in March
blamed the shutdown plan entirely on Wildstein and Kelly. But
Democratic lawmakers have rejected that review as incomplete.
Federal prosecutors have also opened probes into the Bridgegate
The executive director of the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, was also
scheduled to testify Tuesday but rescheduled his appearance for
(Editing by Edith Honan and Ken Wills)
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