There is evidence that Gov. Chris Christie knew of the George
Washington Bridge access lane closings as they were happening, says a
lawyer for the former port authority official blamed for the politically
motivated incident, but Christie's office denied the allegation.
A Friday letter
from David Wildstein's attorney says "evidence exists as well 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 he gave immediately before Mr.
Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee.
Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor
made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some," the letter
also reads. The letter was first reported by the New York Times.
The letter, from attorney Alan Zegas and addressed to the Port
Authority of New York and New Jersey, seeks a reconsideration of the
authority's decision to not pay Wildstein's legal fees.
Christie's press office distributed a statement saying the governor "had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures.''
Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along - 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,'' the statement said. "As the Governor said in a December
13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it
was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press
conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a
traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The
Governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions."
letter sent shock waves through New Jersey's political community, with
one veteran pundit saying the revelation was a "bombshell."
of us who have watched this governor over the past several weeks
anticipated this, given his demeanor has been rather un-Christie-like,"
said Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor at
Montclair State University.
Wildstein has been central in the
probe into the lane closings, which occurred in September and snarled
traffic in Fort Lee for hours over a period of four days. The closings
led some Democrats to say the incident was meant as political
retribution because the Fort Lee mayor declined to endorse Christie's
Originally, Wildstein, Christie and others claimed the closings were
the result of a traffic study, but e-mails released earlier this month
showed the closings were discussed between Wildstein and Christie Deputy
Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly in August.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to Wildstein.
"Got it," Wildstein replied.
the e-mails surfaced on Jan. 8, Christie's office released a prepared
statement in which the governor indicated he didn't know about his
staff's involvement until that day.
"What I've seen today for the
first time is unacceptable. I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn
that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely
inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,"
the statement said.
The next day, Christie held a two-hour press
conference during which he said he had no prior knowledge of the
incident. He also announced he had fired Kelly. Wildstein, a longtime
Christie ally, had already resigned from the authority.
Democrats and national political commentators jumped on the latest revelations.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee put out a statement almost immediately:
"Chris Christie said he barely knew David Wildstein. That was untrue.
He said he hadn't seen Mr. Wildstein in a long time. That was untrue.
He's repeatedly said that he had no knowledge of the lane closures.
Today's revelations raise serious questions about whether that is true,"
"I know it's Super Bowl weekend and Chris
Christie doesn't want to talk about anything but the game, but it looks
like he's going to need to change his plans," Elleithee added.
Super Bowl is taking place at MetLife Stadium in North Jersey, and
Christie has been actively promoting the state's role in the festivities
Paul Begala, a former adviser to President Clinton and host of CNN's Crossfire who
now teaches at the University of Georgia School of Law, tweeted: "I'm
no expert on politics or scandal or the press, but this seems like a bad
story for Chris Christie."
In a related development, Christie's
re-election campaign manager wants his George Washington Bridge subpoena
withdrawn because it violates his "Fifth Amendment right against
compelled self-incrimination," according to a letter sent today by Bill
Stepien's attorney to Reid Schar, counsel for the New Jersey Legislative
Select Committee on Investigation.
Subpoenaed information from 18 people and two organizations is due Monday.
"Bill Stepien has not broken any laws. He is one of the most well
respected political consultants in America," the letter from attorney
Kevin Marino reads. "Indeed, as is now widely known, he was poised to
become Chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party and had already been
retained as a consultant to the powerful Republican Governors'
Association when he was summarily disqualified from both positions
following the publication of two email exchanges he had with executives
of the Port Authority."
Christie fired Stepien after the e-mails
also indicated that Stepien had made derogatory remarks about the mayor
of Fort Lee as the closings began to attract media attention.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Zegas' claims had turned the probe
"into a lot more serious situation and a lot more disturbing, with
someone so close to the governor saying that he's essentially a liar."
think this is real serious. The governor had a two-hour press
conference essentially saying he knew nothing about the bridge closing.
Now Wildstein is saying he did," Pallone said. "The allegation by
Wildstein that the governor knew totally contradicts what the governor
said to the American people. I think this takes us to another level
because Wildstein is saying the governor didn't tell the truth."
MORE: Gov. Christie Vows Accountability Over Bridge Scandal
MORE: 20 Subpoenas Issued In N.J. Bridge Scandal