Matt Katz, New Jersey Public Radio
More emails released in the Bridgegate scandal engulfing Gov. Chris Christie's administration provide new evidence about a larger circle that covered up the involvement of the governor's staff.
In one email, the head of Christie's re-election campaign praises the governor's top Port Authority appointee for hoodwinking the Legislature about the cause of the traffic jams.
The emails, released Monday as part of the court proceeding, don't contain the kind of smoking gun that was in the first batch released in January ("Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," wrote Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, to David Wildstein, Christie's appointee at the Port Authority). But they do bring Christie's former political right-hand man, Bill Stepien, who is the third key figure in the case, closer to the possible conspiracy.
When Bridgegate broke, Stepien was slated to run the state Republican party and act as an aide to Christie in his role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He was dismissed from both positions.
The emails were released as part of a request for more information from Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, who is considering a request from Stepien and Kelly to quash a subpoena filed by Democratic state legislators for their emails and other documents. At a hearing last week, an attorney for the legislative committee investigating Bridgegate, Reid Schar, referred to unreleased emails provided by other witnesses linking Stepien to the scandal. Stepien's attorney, Kevin Marino, demanded to see those emails.
You can read the full documents below and here are some highlights:
-- Stepien is repeatedly forwarded emails about the lane closures beginning on Sept. 12, the fourth day of the five-day scheme. In the weeks afterward, as reporters begin to question why the lanes were closed, Stepien is looped in on emails that discuss avoiding reporters’ questions.
-- On Nov. 26, 2013, after Christie's appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, testifies that the lane closures were due to a traffic study, Stepien writes him an email praising him. In that email, he refers to the time Baroni argued with the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg at a congressional hearing about the Port Authority’s toll hikes: “I know its not a fun topic and not nearly as fun as beating up on Frank Lautenberg, but you did great, and I wanted to thank you.”
-- In response, Baroni thanks Stepien, and references Democratic state legislators Loretta Weinberg and John Wisniewski, who would become the co-chairs of the Legislature’s investigative committee on Bridgegate: “[They] will keep their nonsense but at least we have explained the counter narrative.”
-- On Jan. 8, 2014, an email from Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, is released. It says: “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Shortly thereafter, Christie spokesman Colin Reed sends a note to his boss, communications director Maria Comella, with advice for Kelly in regards to her Twitter account: “Maybe too late, but she may want to shut down everything on social media."