Emails Tie Top Christie Aides to GW Bridge Scandal

Wednesday, January 08, 2014 - 09:55 AM


A series of email messages to the central figure in the fray surrounding the closure of traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge show a top aide to Governor Chris Christie was directly involved in what has become a burgeoning scandal for Christie. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," the aide to Christie, Bridget Anne Kelly, wrote to David Wildstein. A minute later, Wildstein replied "got it."

The email was sent on August 13 from Kelly's private Yahoo account, a month before Wildstein, a top Christie appointee in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, abruptly ordered the lane closures. Those closures caused a work week's worth of traffic jams in Fort Lee. Fort Lee's mayor, Mark Sokolich, did not endorse Chris Christie for re-election, and it's been widely speculated that his refusal to do so prompted the closures—a charge Christie has denied.

The electronic communications show a detailed trail of communications between Wildstein and Kelly, including one acknowledging that the closures were hidden from from Fort Lee officials.   And they show scheming by Christie appointees to throw reporters off the scent.

The explicit emails, which include ethnic slurs and mocking schoolchildren, present the greatest crisis of his career for Christie, a rising star in the Republican party, and a likely 2016 presidential candidate.  They show his team as a gang of bullies, reflecting a widespread charge that Democrats have leveled but never proved.

Christie cancelled his only public event Wednesday, but late in the day his office issued the following statement from the Governor: "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. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions."

According to testimony at a legislative hearing, the closures were "at variance" with normal procedure and were undertaken without the knowledge of either the mayor or Pat Foye, the Port Authority's executive director, an appointee of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The two governors jointly control the bi-state authority.

Kelly is Christie's deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs—making her directly in charge of handling relationships with local officials, like mayor Mark Sokolich. Wildstein was a high school classmate of Christie's. He resigned in December, calling the bridge scandal a distraction. Bill Baroni, Christie's top Port Authority appointee, also resigned.

The emails show Wildstein and Kelly communicated about the closures for well over a month before they occurred. "Call when you have a chance re: Ft. Lee -- can wait for tomorrow,"  Wildstein wrote on Aug. 28. Kelly replied, "Away with kids.  Will call in the morning."

On September 7, two days before the closures began, Wildstein emailed: "I will call you Monday am to let you know how Fort Lee goes."  "Great," Kelly responded.

The morning of the 9th, Wildstein told Kelly that the Mayor of Fort Lee had called Baroni. "Did he call him back?" Kelly asked.  "Radio silence," Wildstein replied, before adding "his name comes right after Mayor Fulop," referring to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, another Democrat who had drawn Christie's ire.

On Friday, the 13th, after Foye angrily reversed the closures, Wildstein wrote to Kelly "The New York side gave Fort Lee back all three lanes this morning. We are appropriately going nuts.  Samson helping us to retaliate," referring to David Sampson, the Port Authority chair, a Christie appointee.  "What??" Kelly asked.  To which Wildstein reponded: "Yes, unreal.  Fixed now."

In December, Christie told reporters he'd spoken to everybody in his senior staff and that they'd assured him they were not involved in the lane closures. "I've made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward and tell me about it and they've all assured me that they don't," he said at that time.

Christie also said his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, knew nothing about the event. But the emails show Stepien and Wildstein discussing press coverage of the traffic tie-ups after the fact. In one email exchange, Wildstein says of Sokolich, "It will be a tough November for this little Serbian."  Stepien, in his response, calls the Fort Lee Mayor "an idiot."

Kelly had taken over for Stepien, who left the administration to manage Christie's re-election campaign. Two weeks ago, Stepien was appointed to a post as a political adviser at the Republican Governors Association, which Christie heads. Just yesterday, Stepien became the head of the Republican Party in New Jersey. Christie is widely considered to be a leading candidate for president in 2016.

The emails were obtained by WNYC and other news organizations on Wednesday morning, a day before Wildstein is scheduled to testify before the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee.

An unknown texter also forwarded a text from Sokolich to Baroni pleading for help in ending the traffic. "The bigger problem is getting kids to school.  Help please.  It's maddening."  To which the texter added his own commentary: "Is it wrong that I am smiling?"

"No," Wildstein replied. "I feel badly about the kids, I guess," the texter wrote, referring to the fact that the traffic jams came on the first day of school, catching school buses in their web.

Wildstein's response: "They are the children of Buono voters." Barbara Buono was the Democratic candidate who ran against Christie last year.

The  emails and texts are below. 

(With reporting from Matt Katz, whose interview on the Brian Lehrer Show is above.)

Wildstein Email


Comments [32]

Ronnie from Fulton, NY

I live in Oswego County NY and I wish we had an honest news station and reporter like you people do. We need someone like her to look at how the head of the assessment review board assesses his properties compared to the other single family home owners.
Talk about coruption how about the head of the assessment review baord's property are assessed at maybe 30% of full market value and we enjoy the highest property tax rates in the United States. and it not like he only owns one or two. It was brought to the AG's office before he became Governor you know Uncel Andy the guy who wants to be President just like That guy from NJ looks like they are all the same. To hell with truth and justice balance the budget with seat belt tickets.

Jan. 12 2014 09:13 PM

I think if Chris Christie is going to correct this problem, he needs to clean house in his circle. Also should give 4 days free tolls on the gw bridge.....

Jan. 09 2014 02:40 PM
bill from CRANBURY, NJ

Nixonian, masterfully plays the victim, scapegoats everyone, personally selected his staff, blindsided?, didn't care enough to know for 4 months but now wants to find out, is aware at some level that he IS a BULLY!.

Jan. 09 2014 12:34 PM
abigail pessen

Resignations of Erlichman and Haldemann redux.

Jan. 09 2014 12:26 PM
MC from Manhattan

Stuff your administration with sycophants and mean spirited Republicans and this is the result ... do what Obama did, take inspiration from Lincoln and staff your self with the opposition if you are REALLY serious about being a Governor. Republicans need to learn to care about more than their own interests and group.
The measure of governance is not what you do to cover over your ineptness and inability to pick a team that will GOVERN properly instead of playing with people's lives, The measure of governance is the ability to be TRUSTED to weld power and delegate that power you are entrusted with. YOU FAILED Governor, and you can't be trusted to RUN THINGS PERIOD on a local , state and definately not NATIONAL level.

Isn't the " They are buono voters" comment similar to the Romney and crowd "47%" "us vs them" attitude that is way too common amongst REPUBLICANS? Let's start listing out all the examples of their willingness to be mean spirited, petty and vindictive towards their opposition, the poor, the other ...

Jan. 09 2014 12:11 PM
Francisco from Los Angeles

Bottom line........ Christie fired Bridget Anne Kelly for not doing a "clean job", classy......

Jan. 09 2014 11:19 AM
mark roayal from nyc

Obviously, Christie knew about the whole thing, but he'll come away clean as one or two of his flunkies will fall on his/her sword. But here is what perplexes me. Has any of these people ever heard of a phone, and I don't mean texting? Why in the world would you put this in an email? It shows their hubris and arrogance. If even one person died on the way to the hospital because of the jams...well, all I can say is that the lawyers are salivating.

Jan. 09 2014 10:39 AM
mark roayal from nyc

Obviously, Christie knew about the whole thing, but he'll come away clean as one or two of his flunkies will fall on his/her sword. But here is what perplexes me. Has any of these people ever heard of a phone, and I don't mean texting? Why in the world would you put this in an email? It shows their hubris and arrogance. If even one person died on the way to the hospital because of the jams...well, all I can say is that the lawyers are salivating.

Jan. 09 2014 10:39 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

As this story unfolds, it sounds more and more like something that could happen in, maybe, Absurdistan, not in the US. However, since it did happen that public officials, whose salaries are paid with tax dollars, were responsible for this outrageous action, I submit that they should be terminated, their salaries, retroactive to the date of the lane closures, should be repaid to the government of New Jersey, and that they be tried and jailed for terrorism, abuse of public office, falsifying records and whatever other charges the NJ Attorney General can think of. And, perhaps, since it directly affected interstate travel and commerce, it may as well go to the US Attorney General (didn't Christie once work there?) for federal prosecution.

Jan. 09 2014 09:29 AM

When Christie said that he had placed the traffic cones in Ft Lee personally he
was showing his management skills in providing personal support for his staff.

Jan. 09 2014 09:04 AM
David from New Jersey

We live in a world of probabilities and there is a very strong probability that the Governor knew about the retribution at the bridge or set an atmosphere for this kind of behavior by his top staff. Any statement Christie makes regarding his complicity in this matter is a moot point. He does have a reputation of being a surly and a bully.

Jan. 09 2014 08:24 AM
transportation from Finland

Yahoo? No wonder. 27 000 Windows-computers were infected by malware Yahoo adds per every hour not long time ago. (Glad i'm using Linux)

Jan. 09 2014 04:08 AM
New Yorker from NYC

Still don't understand how Pat Foye did nothing. He should of sent Port Authority police per his boss king cuomo to alleviate the traffic issue immediately. Heads should roll on both sides of the Hudson and the fact that Foye and Cuomo did nothing is shameful. There were New Yorkers stuck on this bridge not just NJ residents. All upper management at Port Authority should resign.

Jan. 08 2014 10:03 PM
Pauley Coconuts from Down the Shore

Petty little jerks.

And New Jersey deserves what it gets for electing this moron.
Big, tough guy can't even stop shoveling food into his gaping pie hole.

Jan. 08 2014 06:41 PM

Okay, Christie has just thrown Bridget under the bus. Let's hope she returns the favor and spills the beans.

Jan. 08 2014 04:50 PM

It seems Christie and his staff are no George Washingtons.

Jan. 08 2014 03:29 PM
Thomas R from Manhattan

We owe a great debt to WNYC for keeping after this story when no other news organization was doing so. Thank you very much for your commitment to the truth.
No surprises from Christie, joining a long list of politicians who believe they are above the law/rules of the game. We will add this to the free passes he received for losing the NJ Transit railcars during Hurricane Sandy and wasting $23.0mm in NJ taxpayer $ on a special election to avoid appearing on the same ballot as Booker.
Christie will easily botch any chances for 2016, a feat for which we as a nation are grateful.

Jan. 08 2014 03:11 PM
robert from No longer Christie terriroty

This is the typical Christie MO. Usually he just insults, bullies, screams, or yells at people, or the worse, chases them down the boardwalk. His staff has learned that such actions are without consequences and hence we have the GWB mess. This sounds so much like the Nixon White House or Chaney as VP. Why do the GOP love such lowlife humans as the best candidates?

Jan. 08 2014 02:58 PM
Ruby from neptune, nj

Isn't it a right to vote without fear of retribution from the government?

And yes, don't be naive: Christie knew exactly what was happening.

Jan. 08 2014 02:35 PM

Please check for typos before posting.

Jan. 08 2014 02:13 PM

I guess the thing to do is see if this had any effect on emergency vehicles. Maybe they don't go across the GWB, but if any did, or could've, or should've, there could be repercussions for that. And that's a non-partisan interest. I hope if anything this curbs the public's appetite for so-called "straight-talking, no-nonsense politicians." I'm not getting my hopes up.

Jan. 08 2014 01:54 PM
NRGstein from Westchester

Hey Mistercarguy, did you really call Christie "Gov. Crisco (AKA - fat in the can)" and then say "making fat jokes about the governor makes you look silly an immature"?

Just checking.

Jan. 08 2014 12:37 PM
Brooklyn_Mom from Brooklyn

I am sorry but the comments about school children stuck on buses is really angering me. A lot of kids that are bused need this service because they have disabilities and making what is often already a difficult journey to school even more difficult is shameful. And joking about it - Yikes. How can politics/politicians be so cavalier and heartless? Is this what politics in this area have come to? Christie & his cronies deserve to be mocked for his largeness and largess. Yeah "Mistercarguy from Cliffside Park" it may seem immature, but reading these messages brings them to a new all time low. Shame of you NJ Republicans – shame, shame, shame.

Jan. 08 2014 12:03 PM

April Fools I'm assuming? This is too perfect.

Jan. 08 2014 11:52 AM
Ginzberg from Inwood

I wonder if some kind of physical assault or bodily harm charges could be brought, since Ft. Lee residents were deliberately exposed to elevated levels of pollution.

Jan. 08 2014 11:10 AM

This same type of Bridgegatesque crime, corruption, cover-up & retaliation is standard operating procedure at the Port Authority Bus Terminal's Lost & Found Dept. in NYC concerning lost & found property brazenly stolen by Port Authority Supervisors. Google  “Donna Lebourne abc news" & see the vile face of shame being confronted & exposed for the world to see.

Port Authority Supervisor Donna Lebourne also has an outside job, she is the Vice President of her & her husband’s charity Caribbean Sports International that donates cellphones & other electronics.  If you lost an item at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and did not get it back, contact her charity, perhaps she may donate your item back to you out of the kindness of her cold evil heart. It's very easy to be charitable when you are giving away someone else’s property.

Also, the Port Authority of NY & NJ has become a threat to national security and has placed everyone's safety & security in jeopardy, by employing an illegal policy of disposing lost valid passports in the garbage that are found in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Now just imagine the damage that a terrorist cell could do with those valid lost passports or an identity theft ring. Google "Port Authority - Passports."

In this age of global terrorism and rampant identity theft, the Port Authority is a reckless shameful disgusting embarrassment of bi-state transportation agency when it comes to safety & security in this area. To ignore this gaffe would be a crime on all levels of local, state & federal government, who have the power to put a stop to this lunacy. Google “found, stolen, trashed by PA.”

The culture of fear is alive and well at the Port, because crime, corruption, cover-ups & retaliation is the Port Authority way. Believe me, I know firsthand and I have the evidence to prove it. General Manager of the George Washington Bridge Robert Durando’s testimony at the New Jersey State Assembly Transportation Committee on 12/9/13 exposes the culture of fear that exists at the Port Authority, he is fully aware of what happens to whistleblowers at the Port. Sadly, Durando and his boss Cedrick Fulton decided to put tens of thousands of lives in jeopardy just to save their own jobs. They are cowards...highly paid puppets of the Port Authority.

Intentionally gridlocking traffic on 9/11 for the sake of a "traffic study," a day that terrorist use to cause mayhem is absolute insanity.

It’s time to stop the madness!

Jan. 08 2014 11:06 AM

[[Mistercarguy from Cliffside Park

If the Right is going to constantly try and tar Hillary with the Benghazi attacks, the left can now come back to Gov. Crisco (AKA - fat in the can) with Bridge-ghazi (please stop calling it Bridge-gate - some originality please!)
Jan. 08 2014 10:16 AM]]

Hillary Clinton can be tarred and feathered for her failure to actually DO anything as Secretary of State. I have not see a single accomplishment of hers.

More importantly, making fat jokes about the governor makes you look silly an immature. If you want to cite his actions or inactions, do so. But don't flick boogers and call that criticism.

Jan. 08 2014 10:55 AM
Jan from Morristown

I believe we have our next Teflon President. It will be chalked up to a few rogue staffers whom the governor will praise for their support then concede, in a dismissive way, that they took things too far in spite of their good intentions and unfailing support, which he greatly appreciates. Most voters, even many in New Jersey, will forget the names of the rogue staffers by the time they're appointed to positions in his presidential administration. Anyone interested in placing bets on this?

Jan. 08 2014 10:47 AM
I'm shocked, shocked!

Brian -

I just tuned in.

Isn't there some sort of transparency law that prohibits the use of personal email accounts for transacting government business?

Also, Christie's attempt to brush this off..."Nothing to see here...move along"...speaks volumes about his character, or lack thereof. As the CEO of his state - a state with a long history of pettiness, corruption and mismanagement - he should have been outraged and drilled down to get to the truth.

But, of course, we see that his people were behind it and can assume the action had his tacit approval.

Jan. 08 2014 10:19 AM
Mistercarguy from Cliffside Park

If the Right is going to constantly try and tar Hillary with the Benghazi attacks, the left can now come back to Gov. Crisco (AKA - fat in the can) with Bridge-ghazi (please stop calling it Bridge-gate - some originality please!)

Jan. 08 2014 10:16 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Hmmm...I am kind of seeing bars (not the kind that serve alcohol) in someone's future.

Jan. 08 2014 10:14 AM
Cathy from Hoboken, NJ

It must be pointed out that this had negative affects not only on the people of Fort Lee but on all the people from towns for many miles north and south of the GW Bridge who use Fort Lee's local lanes to access the bridge. If you are not coming from the highways to the west of Fort Lee that feed onto the GW, you must access it using Fort Lee's local lanes.

Jan. 08 2014 10:14 AM

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