NYTimes.com: The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday that “evidence exists” the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.
In a letter released by his lawyer, the former official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “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” three weeks ago.
During his news conference, Mr. Christie specifically said he had no knowledge that traffic lanes leading to the bridge had been closed until after they were reopened. “I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over,” he said. “And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study.”
The letter does not specify what the evidence was. Nonetheless, it is the first signal that Mr. Christie, a Republican, may have been aware of the closings, and marks a striking break with a previous ally.
The letter, sent from Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, is to the Port Authority’s general counsel, contesting the agency’s decision over the legal fees. But it is clearly meant as a threat to the governor. Indeed, the allegations make up just one paragraph in a two-page letter that otherwise focuses on Mr. Wildstein’s demand that his legal fees be paid and that he be indemnified.
Mr. Zegas did not respond to requests to discuss the letter, which also consisted of a strong defense of Mr. Wildstein against negative comments Mr. Christie made about him during the news conference. “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter added.
Late on Friday, the Christie administration issued a statement, insisting the letter supports Mr. Chrisitie’s contention that he did not know of the closings in advance:
“Mr. 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. 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.”
The bridge scandal erupted in early January, when documents emerged revealing that a deputy chief of staff to the governor, Bridget Anne Kelly, had sent an email to Mr. Wildstein saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” the town at the New Jersey end of the bridge, where Mr. Christie’s aides had pursued but failed to receive an endorsement from the mayor, who is a Democrat. The letter does not delve into the motives behind the lane closings.
Mr. Christie has steadfastly denied that he knew before this month that anyone in his administration was responsible for the lane closings, and his administration has tried to portray the closures as the actions of a rogue staff member.
The governor fired Ms. Kelly.
The closings caused extensive gridlock in Fort Lee, stretching some commutes to four hours and delaying emergency vehicles.
Mr. Wildstein communicated the order to close the lanes to bridge operators. He resigned from his position as the director of interstate capital projects at thePort Authority in early December, saying that the scandal over the lane closings in September had become “a distraction.” In a statement that documents show was personally approved by the governor, the administration praised him as “a tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority.”
The Port Authority has since refused to pay his legal costs associated with inquiries by the New Jersey Legislature and United States attorney into the lane closings. In his two-hour news conference earlier this month, Mr. Christie said his friendship with Mr. Wildstein had been overstated; that while the governor had been class president and an athlete, he did not recall Mr. Wildstein well from that period and had rarely seen him in recent months.
The Wall Street Journal has since published photos showing the two men laughing together at a Sept. 11 anniversary event — which happened during the four days the lanes were closed. A high school baseball coach also recalled them as friends in high school.
The Legislature has sent subpoenas to Mr. Wildstein and 17 other people as well as the governor’s campaign and administration seeking information about the lane closings. That information is due back on Monday.
Ms. Kelly’s email was revealed in documents Mr. Wildstein submitted in response to an earlier subpoena from the legislature. But those documents were heavily redacted, leaving clues but no answers as to who else might have been involved in the lane closings. Some of the documents, for example, showed texts between Mr. Wildstein and Ms. Kelly trying to set up a meeting with the governor around the time the plan for the lane closings was hatched. But it is unclear what the meeting was about.
Other texts show Mr. Wildstein and Mr. Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, disparaging the mayor of Fort Lee during the lane closings, and discussing how to respond to the mayor’s complaints and inquiries from reporters. Those texts, too, are heavily redacted, but indicate that the two men were in contact with the governor’s office at the time.
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