Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bridge Gate Updates - Saturday February 1 , 2014..... the day after the Wildstein bombshell , here's where things stand !


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie looks down and out in Times Square on Saturday. Bottom, Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo are  more upbeat.


The once-immensely popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was booed twice Saturday at a Super Bowl event in Times Square.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves after a visit with Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich at the Borough of Fort Lee Memorial Municipal Building on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014 in Fort Lee, N.J.  A contrite Gov. Chris Christie emerged Tuesday to offer an apology for the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal — and to fire two of his top advisers directly linked to the punitive traffic lane closures in Fort Lee.  (James Keivom / New York Daily News)


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has blamed the George Washington Bridge traffic on 'stupid' staff members, but former Port Authority official David Wildstein says Christie knew of the September lane closures.

Pictures tell a thousand words.......

Well, That Escalated Quickly

AP Photo / Mel Evans

It is hard for me to believe that the governor of an American state could author such a piece of risible juvenilia, except it is even harder for me to believe a paid communications professional could have been behind this. The “argument” Christie (or possibly one very very close longtime advisor) is making here is that David Wildstein is a bad guy.


Because as a “a 16-year-old kid” he filed a lawsuit over a school board election and was “publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.” Because he was, according to Christie, a “tumultuous” person (not the correct usage of that word, Governor, but whatever). Because he was “a political animal” who had “a controversial tenure” as the mayor of Livingston. Because he “made moves that were not productive.”

In some ways, I like David Wildstein more after reading some of this. I wish I’d thought of suing over a school board election when I was 16. I’m sure I engaged in deceptive behavior in high school. And earlier this week I, too, “made moves that were not productive.” Moreover, I will make more unproductive moves next week and I might even be making an unproductive move at this very moment.

Obviously it is hard for me to take some of these criticisms seriously. They are so flailing and weak that I can’t believe a journalist could claim Christie is “mount[ing] an aggressive defense.” And they don’t even seem to be true based on the article that Christie cites in his own email ! Still, that’s why you leak this to Politico rather than a home-state media outlet in the first place.
But let’s forget about the press statement for a minute. After all, it’s intended to be a distraction and a sideshow.

Here’s how I look at this story right now :

It is utterly irrelevant if Chris Christie ‘wins the day’ or the weekend or the next 5 minutes or the next week. Irrelevant.

The bottom line is that he is in serious trouble, politically and legally.

On the legal front, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey is probing allegations by the mayor of Hoboken that a member of Christie’s cabinet and the lieutenant governor linked federal Hurricane Sandy relief funds to the the mayor’s support for a redevelopment project in Hoboken that would exclusively benefit one of Christie’s closest allies – whom he appointed to chair the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This morning on his MSNBC show Steve Kornacki discussed reporting he and I (and producer Jack Bohrer) did showing that those federal Hurricane Sandy funds have not been monitored by the Christie Administration as required by a law that Christie himself signed last March. Furthermore, relief funds have been extremely hard to account for because Christie vetoed a bill that would have created a single website to track Sandy funding and contract information. Based on the reactions of two congressmen who watched the report with me, officials in Washington will be loath to trust Christie with the next round of federal funds and we should not be surprised if an investigation is on the horizon.

On the home-state political front, Christie is facing a Monday Feb. 3 deadline when subpoenas issued to members of his senior staff and campaign are due to be answered in Trenton as a part of the New Jersey legislature’s investigation into lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September.

Those lane closures were how this entire story began for me. Three weeks ago I found evidence that a billion dollar redevelopment project in Fort Lee might have been targeted by those lane closures. The reason I had looked for that evidence was because, after watching Chris Christie’s marathon press conference, I thought his story didn’t add up. There were many many words spoken over a very long time, but when aggregated into sentences and paragraphs, none of it made sense logically. And the idea that David Wildstein and Bill Baroni coordinated with Christie’s staff and campaign manager to re-allocate lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish a mayor for not endorsing the governor seemed like disproportionate punishment. There had to be something else going on.

We don’t yet know why those lanes were closed, but on Friday we were reminded that there are people out there who do. One of them may be David Wildstein. And through his lawyer, Wildstein telegraphed that “evidence exists” showing that Christie’s statements on Jan. 9 were false.

The letter was news. Perhaps the New York Times’ headline was too bold. But so what ! David Wildstein has already produced evidence showing that the order to close the lanes came from the governor’s office, and that even junior staff in that office were aware that an operation was being run in Fort Lee. We know that Wildstein, Baroni, and Samson were with Christie that week. We know that Bill Stepien, the governor’s re-election campaign manager and onetime deputy chief-of-staff, was aware of the operation and may know the true motive (“win some, lose some,” he said afterward in an email).

In his office’s statement from last night and his subsequent email tonight, Governor Christie alleges that the lane closures were David Wildstein’s idea – tonight he called them “David Wildstein’s scheme.”

That may be true. Perhaps David Wildstein is the guy who came up with the idea of closing lanes one day and then filed it away as an off-the-shelf plan to execute if and when necessary to accomplish a political end.

Yet there’s a reason David Wildstein is seeking legal immunity and reimbursement for his legal bills: the order to close those lanes – the motive – seems to have come from Trenton.

And here we get to the heart of the matter. David Wildstein was put in the Port Authority by Chris Christie, in a job Christie invented, to be the governor’s eyes and ears – his enforcer. Wildstein was put at the Port so Christie could more effectively use the Port as an extension of his political operation (as Steve and I are documenting, more and more, with each passing week).
So spare us the shock that Wildstein is “a political animal.” Christie knew who Wildstein was before he appointed him to this job. There is no sense in distancing yourself from one of your own appointees who was given a job specifically because his skills matched what you were looking to accomplish with that appointment.

And finally, let me point something out: Christie goes out of his way to knock David Wildstein for being “an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge.”

I worked for Wally Edge. I discussed it yesterday morning on MSNBC.

I enjoyed working for him. He was a fiercely loyal editor and advocate, and a very skilled observer of all things political. It is true I did not know at the time that Wally Edge was David Wildstein, but I took the job as a professional journalist, with a sense of the ethical obligations I had to sources and readers. It was better for me not to know Wally’s true identity so I would not have to lie to sources when they asked if I knew. And at some point the question just wasn’t very interesting anymore. He knew things. He had good sources. He was at least as fair as most other editors I’d worked with. He pushed back against people who gave me a hard time. He put me in a job where I was a daily reporter in one of the most politically cutthroat states in the federal union, and he helped me make it my own while I was there. And he never lied to me. So, yes, I liked Wally Edge. And it’s disappointing to me that we are where we are today.

But you know who else liked Wally Edge back then ?

Chris Christie. The same man who earlier today denounced Wildstein for being an “anonymous blogger.”

I don’t have my email records from 2002, but if I did I am sure I could produce emails to and from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Almost everyone leaks in political reporting, but some of my biggest scoops came from leaks from Christie’s office, either to Wally or to both of us.

And Chris Christie loved the product of our work. When I covered the Newark mayoral race in 2002 I spent part of the day looking at polling sites where Cory Booker supporters were being intimidated or harassed. From the back of an SUV I would type up a story with photos, file it over a dial-up connection, and wait 15 minutes until federal election monitors were dispatched to the site by Christie’s office, where Christie was reading himself and reloading the page every few minutes.

When Chris Christie gave a press conference that afternoon in the U.S. Attorney’s office in the federal building in Newark, he was holding a rolled up piece of paper in his hand as he stood at the lectern and took questions. The piece of paper was one of my stories. When I went to speak with him afterwards, he unfurled it and told me how much he loved the work I was doing.

I don’t know if Chris Christie knew the true identity of Wally Edge back then. But he certainly did by the time he appointed David Wildstein to the Port Authority. And by then he had to know that the coverage David (and I, and Steve, and our fellow alums) had given to his prosecutions had played at least a small part in helping him become governor.

There is a legal process going on that may result in indictments and a political process in motion that may well lead to an impeachment. The risk premium on a Christie candidacy for president just went through the roof. This has been a very very bad week for the governor.

It may be true that David Wildstein “will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.” But at this point the same can be said of Chris Christie.

It was probably a good idea for the governor to hire that white-collar criminal defense lawyer from Manhattan.

After all, we don’t know what was in the file boxes David Wildstein carried out of the Port Authority last year. He mentioned them in passing on Sept. 18, 2013 in an email to Bill Stepien.
Why do we know that ?

Because it’s in the documents Wildstein provided to the legislature. Exhibit A. Page 642. An email sent at 5:30 a.m.

It seems safe to assume there’s more where that came from.

Brian Murphy (@burrite) is a former political reporter in New Jersey and now an assistant professor of history at Baruch College, where he studies political economy and the politics of banking and infrastructure in the early American republic. He worked for David Wildstein in 2002 as the managing editor of and is also a friend of Bill Baroni. Both men are intimately involved in the scandal. He has not spoken with either about the scandal. He has never met Wildstein in person, and has not seen Baroni since 2009.

Worse Than I Realized

AP Photo
One person said we should see the release of this email as a message to funders. If so, the message seems to be "I'm desperate and losing my mind."

This email/memo/press release doesn't read like a methodological takedown. It reads more like something dashed off in a climate of frenzied but impotent rage.

Look at this passage.

It's genuinely shocking that a sitting governor and presidential aspirant finds himself or his key defenders writing a sentence like this: "He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior."

I mean, is that a joke? Or, he's someone who "made moves that were not productive" ?

Seriously, who wrote this ?

What's funny is that many people who know the guy have no trouble saying Wildstein in a brilliantly sleazy guy, someone with a taste for dirty politics and would, as the letter finally says, do and say anything to save David Wildstein. So even as a scorched earth attack it's a pretty hapless effort. It shouldn't be hard to find damning things to say about this guy.

In the cited articles, you see some of the inherent difficulties of the situation. Sleazy liar is Gov's "eyes, ears inside The Port Authority" !

That helps.

It speaks for itself that Wildstein is out to save himself. He is not sitting on a reputation for integrity and truth-telling. So the wisdom of doing anything more than saying Wildstein is trying to save himself and lacks credibility is highly questionable. The end product here reads like it's coming from a team or a person who is flailing and grasping at straws.

If I'm a Republican power player reading this to a get a read on what's actually happening, what's likely to happen next week or next month, I think I come away thinking things are considerably worse than I realized.

( Still doesn't rebut Wildstein's attorney's comments that Christie knew about the lane closing while they were underway , especially as Christie's recollection evolve with what's revealed  ... paging Bridget Kelly ! ) 

Bridge scandal: When did Christie learn about the lane closures?

At a news conference on Jan. 9, Gov. Chris Christie said he did not learn of the lane closures in Fort Lee from press reports about a leaked email, as he first suggested in December. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
Salvador Rizzo/The Star-LedgerBy Salvador Rizzo/The Star-Ledger 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on February 02, 2014 at 6:00 AM, updated February 02, 2014 at 6:20 AM
TRENTON — The controversy over the George Washington Bridge lane closures has increasingly focused on when Gov. Chris Christie first knew about them.
It gained added impetus Friday when former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who ordered the lanes closed, alleged through his attorney that Christie knew about the closures while they were happening. The lanes were closed Sept. 9 and ordered reopened on Sept. 13.
Christie has said repeatedly he only learned about the shutdown from press reports after it was over.
But a review of the governor’s public statements on the controversy shows he has never said precisely when he first heard about the closures, giving slightly different explanations on three separate occasions and at one point describing his knowledge as "an evolving thing."
His first public comment on the matter came at a news conference Dec. 13. A reporter asked Christie whether he knew about the closures while they were still going on.
"Never. No," the governor said. "The first I ever heard about the issue was when it was reported in the press, which I think was in the aftermath of Mr. — the leaking of Mr. Foye’s email. I think that was the first I heard of it."
Christie was referring to a scorching email from Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority, telling the agency’s commissioners and bridge managers he was reopening the lanes. The email first appeared in the Wall Street Journal, in a story published late at night on Oct. 1.
Then, 10 days after his news conference, Christie said he had read the first news of the closures not in October but in September.
"Well, I first heard about the lane closure back in September, you know, from press accounts, but, you know, this has kind of been an evolving thing," he said in an interview on 101.5 FM. "There was no, like, moment where I went oh, wow, look at this."
Foye’s email had not appeared in print in September. The only press account in September that mentioned Foye was also in the Wall Street Journal and it ran in print on Sept. 18, but did not quote or mention any emails from him.
However, David Samson, Christie’s handpicked chairman at the Port Authority, was convinced that Foye had leaked something to the newspaper for that story.
david-wildstein-bridgegate-chris-christie-gwb.jpgDavid Wildstein after an appearance in front of the state Assembly transportation committee last year. 
Subpoenaed documents show that on Sept. 18, after reading the story, Samson emailed Vice Chairman Scott Rechler to accuse Foye of leaking: "Scott: I just read it and confirms evidence of Foye’s being the leak, stirring up trouble."After Samson’s accusation surfaced in the subpoenaed documents, Christie gave a new statement on Jan. 9 during a two-hour news conference. He said "it wasn’t one of Pat Foye’s emails, but I think there was an earlier story than that."
A review of news databases shows the only earlier story addressing the lane closures was in a Sept. 13 column by a Record columnist known as "The Road Warrior." Christie did not mention the Record story at his Dec. 13 news conference or in the Dec. 23 radio interview.
At Christie’s marathon news conference on Jan. 9, after bombshell emails surfaced linking top Christie aides to the traffic jam, a reporter asked him about it: "Was it the Road Warrior column in the Record, maybe?"
Christie said: "I don’t remember exactly. … Something about the traffic, yeah."
Asked Saturday to clarify which story Christie meant, a spokesman for the governor, Colin Reed, told The Star-Ledger:
"If you’re asking me about how the governor learned about the lane closures, you can say from me: ‘Governor Christie has said each time he has been asked that he first learned about the closing of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge from press accounts after the instance was over,'" Reed wrote in an email, repeating a statement issued Friday night.
"And then you should make the point that first story ran on 9/13, the day the lanes had already been reopened."


christie and wildsteen
For David Wildstein, Gov. Chris Christie’s political enforcer at the Port Authority who ordered the George Washington Bridge lane closures, yesterday’s letterfrom his lawyer Alan Zegas to Port Authority officials in which Wildstein essentially called Gov. Chris Christie a liar was the logical next step in Wildstein’s open audition to testify before lawmakers and law enforcers as the John Dean of the Bridgegate scandal.
In his latest pitch to federal and state investigators to have Wildstein testify in exchange for immunity, Zegas wrote that “evidence exists . . . 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.” It was at this hearing that Wildstein repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment. “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”
Wildstein’s charges go straight to the core questions of “what did the governor know, and when did he know it?” and prompted both Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and the Star-Ledger editorial board to suggest that Christie would have to resign or face impeachment if they were proven true.
The direct attack on Christie’s integrity on the weekend New Jersey is hosting the Super Bowl is likely to renew the pressure on the governor to step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. It also is likely to send the popularity ratings of the onetime Republican presidential frontrunner plummeting further in both the state and national polls.

Looming Deadline

The Wildstein allegations come as the governor’s office, his campaign, and 18 current or former Christie administration officials face a Monday deadline to turn over documents, emails, texts, and other information subpoenaed by the Joint Legislative Committee on Investigations. Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, yesterday announced that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and a Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure to refuse to cooperate with the committee. Christie administration officials declined to comment yesterday on whether others planned to similarly refuse.
For Christie, who has not held a press conference for 23 days in the face of an ever-growing list of political scandals, it is a public relations nightmare.
Colin Reed, Christie’s press spokesman, yesterday issued a statement that tried to put a positive spin on Wildstein’s charge, asserting that “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.”
However, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), co-chair of the legislative inquiry, last night characterized Wildstein’s charges as “serious accusations that add to people’s skepticism about what the governor was saying.”
It was Wildstein who produced the August 13 email from Bridget Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, telling him it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” in response to a December subpoena from Wisniewski’s Assembly Transportation Committee that catapulted Bridgegate into a national scandal. While Wisniewski said he was troubled that Wildstein did not produce whatever evidence he had that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were going on, he said the committee’s first subpoena might not have been specific enough.
“When we were asking for those documents, we had no idea this would lead into the governor’s office,” Wisniewski said on MSNBC last night. “We were looking at the Port Authority. These could be somebody else’s documents that have come into his possession. We need to see what he has and figure out what Mr. Wildstein is saying here. Clearly his attorney has an obligation to be truthful but we do not know all the information he has and may not be asking all the right questions."
“If he’s seeking immunity, he may not tip his hand to everything he has,” Wisniewski added.
While Wildstein is clearly seeking to be the first to get immunity, he can probably only testify about Bridgegate and the other Port Authority scandals, as is the case with his boss, Bill Baroni, whom Christie installed as the Port Authority’s deputy executive director.
With Stepien yesterday signaling his intention to fight the subpoenas, the big prize for investigators is clearly Kelly, a divorced mother with four school-age children who, like Wildstein, could potentially be facing up to three to 10 years in prison on official misconduct charges related to Bridgegate.
Kelly’s original lawyer was Walter Timpone, whom Christie had appointed as vice-chairman of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, but she is now represented by Michael Critchley, who has no ties to the Christie administration.
As Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, it was Kelly who not only sent the incriminating Bridgegate email, but was at the center of the political operation being run out of the governor’s office during his reelection campaign in close cooperation with her predecessor, Bill Stepien, who left Kelly in charge when he moved over as campaign manager for Christie’s 2013 race.
It was Kelly who set up a special series of meetings with Cabinet-level officials for Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop after his election, then had them cancelled when Fulop refused to endorse Christie. It was Kelly who was the lead contact in the governor’s office for the list of Democratic mayors that the campaign was targeting for endorsements to “run up the score,” as Christie put it, and prove his electability for the 2016 presidential election.

Three Mayors

One of those mayors the campaign contacted was Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble, whose town got a senior citizen center paid for out of Sandy reconstruction funds even though it suffered little damage from the storm. A second was Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough, whose town got a new rail station paid for by the Port Authority. And, of course, a third was Fort Lee’s Mark Sokolich, whose refusal to endorse Christie is considered the most likely reason for the GWB lane closures.
Sokolich sent his now-famous email asking if he was being “punished” to Kelly and Stepien on September 12, the fourth day of the lane closures -- a sign that Sokolich believed the two were working hand in hand in directing the governor’s political machinery and that he saw no distinction or dividing line between the governor’s office and the governor’s reelection campaign.
In his marathon 108-minute press conference in his Statehouse outer office on January 9, Christie said he was “blindsided” by the disclosure that Kelly had emailed Wildstein that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and insisted that “this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” Christie denounced Kelly, whose office door just 40 feet from his podium was now blocked by a double row of TV cameras, as “stupid” and “deceitful,” saying he fired her not because she ordered the lane closures, but because she “lied to me.”
The governor was just as disparaging of Wildstein.
For Wildstein, a self-professed political history junkie with a keen sense of the parallels between Bridgegate and Watergate, Lesniak’s open discussion yesterday of whether Christie might face impeachment had to be a welcome development in his effort to push for immunity
When Wildstein resigned in early December, it looked as if he might be willing to fall on his sword for his hero Christie -- the star catcher whose hitting exploits he recorded as statistician for the Livingston High School baseball team, the publicity-seeking U.S. Attorney whose high-profile arrests of corrupt politicians he broke in advance from his anonymous perch as PolitickerNJ’s “Wally Edge,” and the governor who gave a political aspirant who never rose higher than mayor of his hometown the opportunity to play in the big time at a bistate agency with a multibillion-dollar budget.

Wrong End of the Sword

But that was before Christie twisted the sword deep into Wildstein’s back during his January 9 press conference, putting Wildstein on the receiving end of the type of biting personal attacks that Christie’s well-oiled communications office was quick to post to YouTube when the targets were teachers, reporters, and former Navy SEALs.
While Christie continued to stand up for the integrity of Baroni, the former state senator who played Gov. Jon Corzine in debate prep during his first campaign, he seemed to go out of his way to castigate and belittle Wildstein – a decision that may have made it easier for Wildstein to levy the accusations he did yesterday.
“Let me just clear something up, okay, about my ‘childhood friend’ David Wildstein,” Christie said disparagingly. “It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer, and so was I. Really, after that time, I completely lost touch with David. We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time,” he said of the team statistician who was sitting down the bench from him during baseball games, according to their baseball coach.
Nothing, of course, about how Wildstein promoted Christie’s political career from behind the scenes at Then the governor put in a further dig at how inconsequential Wildstein was as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority
“I have had no contact with David Wildstein in a long time, a long time, well before the election,” Christie insisted. “You know, I could probably count on one hand the number of conversations I’ve had with David since he worked at the Port Authority. I did not interact with David.”
Except that he did – in fact, the Wall Street Journal obtained photos of Wildstein and Christie talking and laughing animatedly in New York City at the World Trade Center at ceremonies commemorating 9/11 attack this past September. This also happened to be the third day of the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Other photographs show Christie was with Kelly the next day at the scene of the Seaside Heights boardwalk fire while she is intently studying her cell phone. This would have been about the time that she and Wildstein and Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, were putting together a press release to be issued by the Port Authority explaining away the GWB lane closures as part of a secret traffic study that Wildstein ordered authority officials not to tell the agency’s executive director or Fort Lee officials about.
The following morning, on September 13, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye ordered the lanes reopened, charging in an email that laws might have been broken -- an email that Baroni forwarded to Regina Egea, the director of the authorities unit in the governor’s office. Whether Egea forwarded that email up the chain of command is one of the key questions the legislative panel wants to have answered.
Christie said in his December 13 press conference that “the first I ever heard about the issue was when it was reported in the press, which I think was in the aftermath of . . . the leaking of Mr. Foye’s email. I think that was the first I heard of it, but it was certainly after the whole thing was over.”
In his January 9 press conference, Christie said, “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. And even then, I was told that it was a traffic study.” Christie insisted that for four months, he never dreamed that the lane closures were anything other than the legitimate traffic study that Baroni had claimed.
With various media outlets focusing on Christie’s unequivocal statements that he did not know about the lane closures during the week of September 9 to 13 when they occurred, Reed issued a followup press statement last night designed to give Christie an out. Reed quoted an exchange from the January 9 press conference in which Christie suggested he might first have learned about the lane closures from “an earlier story” that preceded the October Wall Street Journal story on Foye’s email. Asked if it was The Record’s “Road Warrior” column, which appeared the week of the shutdown, Christie said “I don’t remember exactly,” but “it was something about the traffic, yeah.”
At the same press conference, Christie said he fired Stepien, the top political lieutenant he relied upon as his campaign manager in both 2009 and 2013 and as his chief political operative out of the governor’s office in the years between, for the “attitude and callous indifference” he showed in two emails after Bridgegate with Wildstein. Just two days earlier, he had praised Stepien and said Stepien would be his choice for state Republican Party chairman.
Yesterday, Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, maintained Stepien’s innocence, and argued that one reason the legislative committee should withdraw its subpoena is because Christie’s public firing and criticism of Stepien was the sole basis for the subpoena in the first place.
Marino’s letter made no mention of the September 12 email to Stepien and Kelly from Fort Lee’s mayor protesting the lane closures and suggesting they might be punitive in nature.
“We just received Mr. Marino’s letter this afternoon. We are reviewing it and considering our legal options with respect to enforcing the subpoena,” Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said in a joint statement issued last night.
“We have read the letter from Mr. Wildstein’s attorney and will consider it as our investigation moves forward,” they added.

Chris Christie attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein

Chris Christie is pictured. | AP Photo
Christie's email: '5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell' | AP Photo
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after a low-key initial response to Friday’s explosive allegations about his involvement in a bridge-closing scandal, mounted an aggressive defense late Saturday afternoon, attacking The New York Times and a former political ally in an email to friends and allies obtained by POLITICO.
“Bottom line — David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” the email from the governor’s office says, referring to the former appointee who reignited the controversy.

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Christie vows no more 'breach of trust'

Who's who in the bridge scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference on Jan. 9, 2014, at the statehouse in Trenton, N.J. | AP PhotoPlay Slideshow
A letter from Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan L. Zegas of Chatham, N.J., asserted Friday that “evidence exists … 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.”
The subject line of the 700-word email from the governor’s office is: “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell.” It offers a harshly negative portrayal of Wildstein’s character and judgment.
The Christie camp begins by criticizing The Times for its initial characterization of the Wildstein letter: “A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually ‘evidence’ when it was a letter alleging that ‘evidence exists.’”
The Times’ original story said that Wildstein claimed “he had the evidence to prove it,” while later versions stuck to his lawyer’s vaguer “evidence exists” formulation.
In a statement Saturday night, the Times said: “We regularly update web stories for clarity as we did in this case. We do not note changes unless it involves an error.”
Wildstein’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
The email from the governor’s office again distances Christie from Wildstein’s actions: “As he has said repeatedly, Governor Christie had no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein’s scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge. … The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact. Even then he was under the belief it was a traffic study. He first learned David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly closed lanes for political purposes when it was reported on January 8th.”
Then, it gets personal. “In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as ‘tumultuous’ and someone who ‘made moves that were not productive,’” the email continues. “David Wildstein has been publicly asking for immunity since the beginning, been held in contempt by the New Jersey legislature for refusing to testify, failed to provide this so-called ‘evidence’ when he was first subpoenaed by the NJ Legislature and is looking for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.”
The email dips far back into Wildstein’s past to buttress its portrayal of him, even alleging that “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
Christie praised Wildstein’s tenure when he resigned late last year after being sought for testimony by the Assembly committee investigating the lane closures. Wildstein has long been portrayed as a close friend of Christie’s, and included in the email from the governor’s office is a story from the Bergen Record headlined, “Ex Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority.”
But during his news conference in January, Christie disputed that the two men have a longtime bond or close personal friendship.

David Wildstein's accusations and Christie's denials raise more questions than they answer

(Patti Sapone/The Star-Ledger)
Darryl Isherwood/NJ.comBy Darryl Isherwood/ 
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on February 01, 2014 at 4:50 PM, updated February 01, 2014 at 6:23 PM
The letter disclosed yesterday from the attorney of a former Port Authority official claiming Gov. Chris Christie was aware of controversial lane diversions at the George Washington bridge as they were happening and the subsequent denial by the governor have raised more questions than they served to answer.
In a letter to Port Authority officials seeking a reversal of their decision not to pay former Port Authority official David Wildstein's legal bills, run up while answering a subpoena for documents and testimony from the Assembly committee investigating the bridge scandal, lawyer Alan Zegas dropped a bombshell.
"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," Zegas wrote.  The subsequent New York Times story sent the political world into a frenzy of commentary and speculation over Christie's role in the debacle and his political future should the claim turn out to be true.
Christie fired back, saying Wildstein's claim supports the governor's own assertions that he knew nothing about the closures that backed up traffic in the borough of Fort Lee over five days in early September.
"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," the  statement from a governor's spokesman said.
So while, Wildstein claims to have the answer to the question - when did the governor find out about the lane diversions - his claim leaves a whole host of questions unanswered.
1. Who's lying? 
The governor has said repeatedly that he found out about the lane diversions after the fact.  Initially he said it was after a report about an angry email from the Port Authority's executive director pulling the plug on the lane closures.  That report was on October 1.  Later, the governor said it was earlier, when the traffic problems were first reported.  The earliest story on the traffic closures ran on September 13, the day after they ended
But Wildstein's attorney now says Christie knew about the incident as it was playing out.  The point would be less significant if Christie's denials had not been so vociferous. Should it come out that he knew earlier in the week, it's not the smoking gun, but it is an indication that the "truth" about who knew what and when has been fluid.
2. What did Christie actually know?
Whether the governor knew about the lane closures earlier in the week or not, we don't know - and may never know - what he knew about the motive behind them.  In his statement, Christie makes clear he had no knowledge of Wildstein's motive for shutting the lanes and the governor has held fast to his statement that he believed Wildstein's former boss, Port Authority Deputy Executive Bill Baroni, when Baroni told him the lane diversions were part of a traffic study.
Knowing they were happening before he said he did is one thing, knowing why they were happening would be quite another.
To date, the intrigue has centered on who ordered the lane closures and why.  Though Wildstein's claim is a bombshell, even if true it doesn't do much to answer those questions.
3. Was someone else in the administration involved?
To date, the only administration staffer whose involvement is certain is former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, whose role was revealed in an email chain turned over as part of Wildstein's subpoena response.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," the now infamous email read.
In his letter, Zegas called the lane closures a "Christie administration order" communicated by Kelly.  People familiar with the structure of the governor's inner circle say it's unlikely that Kelly ordered the plan on her own.  She may have, but if she didn't, who did?
4. What was to be discussed at a proposed August meeting between Gov. Chris Christie and Port Authority Chairman David Samson?
Until Friday, that meeting was the focus of the who knew what and when question.  That Wildstein included a reference to the meeting in the documents he supplied to the investigating committee led committee chairman Assemblyman John Wisniewski and others to believe it was relevant to the lane closures.
But in his letter, Wildstein's attorney claimed Christie knew about the incident while it was occurring, not before.  Why did Wildstein include reference to the meeting in his response to the subpoena?  Since it's unlikely anyone will ever testify before the investigating committee, we may never know the answer to this one.
5.Why did Wildstein, through his attorney, decide to drop the Friday afternoon bomb?
There is wide speculation that Wildstein released the letter as further enticement for the U.S. Attorney's office, which is conducting its own investigation and has already issued at least some subpoenas, to offer Wildstein immunity.  His attorney has already laid the groundwork, so this supposition is not too much of a stretch.
Bridget Kelly, who emails show was in on the plan from the start, is also circling out there and it's possible Wildstein is seeking to get in line ahead of her if immunity is in play.
Others speculate that Wildstein may already have been turned down for a full immunity request and will now seek to burn down the house.  No matter what the answer, the man who as Wally Edge chronicled the political game like no other, has turned Trenton on its collective head.

NEW YORK — Gov. Chris Christie was booed by a huge crowd gathered in Times Square today for the ceremonial 'handing off' of the Super Bowl to Arizona, next year's host state.
The beleaguered governor spoke for less than a minute on a stage set up in the middle of Broadway, renamed Super Bowl Boulevard this week.
"Thank you very much to all of our patrons, the NFL, the team owners, look forward to handing it off to Arizona," Christie said, speaking over the unhappy crowd. "I was proud to be in New Orleans last year to accept the hand off on behalf of the region and we look forward to hosting everybody in this group that's got a ticket tomorrow to watch the greatest sports spectacle in the world. Congratulations to the NFL and congratulations to the host committee."
The ceremony came the day after former Port Authority official David Wildstein, through his attorney, said he could prove Christie knew about the controversial closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge while they were happening. The governor has said he knew nothing of the closures until they were reported in the press.
Saturday afternoon Christie was joined on stage by other speakers: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NY/NJ host committee co-chairman Woody Johnson, committee co-chairman Jonathan Tisch, committee president Al Kelly, and several officials from Arizona, including Gov. Jan Brewer.
Brewer, a fellow Republican, gave a vote of confidence for Christie's chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, where he is responsible for raising money to defend and pick up seats for the party.
"I don't know all the details or the bottom line on that," Brewer said, when asked about the scandals, in an interview after the brief ceremony. "I think he's done a marvelous job as governor and will continue to a wonderful job for the RGA."
When he left the stage, Christie ignored the crush of cameras and reporters trailing him, but paused to pose for a picture with a spectator.

Bridge scandal: Chris Christie knew about lane closures, Wildstein's lawyer says

Christopher Baxter/The Star-LedgerBy Christopher Baxter/The Star-Ledger 
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on January 31, 2014 at 3:54 PM, updated January 31, 2014 at 7:23 PM
TRENTON — The attorney representing David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said today that Gov. Chris Christie knew of the closure of lanes from Fort Lee on to the George Washington Bridge when they occurred in September.
"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" last month, the attorney, Alan Zegas, said.
Zegas also said Wildstein "contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
The statements were made in a letter sent by Zegas to the Port Authority asking it to reconsider its decision earlier this month not to pay Wildstein's legal bills. The Port Authority declined comment, and Zegas declined to elaborate on the letter or evidence.
(See the full text of the letter below.)
The governor's office said in a statement that Christie stands by his position that he "first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press."
"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," the statement said.
It went on, "As the governor said in a Dec. 13 press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his Jan. 9 press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of Jan. 8. The governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions."
In December and last month, Christie insisted on several occasions that he learned about the lane closures, which took place from Sept. 9-13, from media accounts published after the closures occurred.
"I knew nothing about this," Christie said at a news conference Jan. 9, the two-hour press conference referenced by Zegas in the letter. "And until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, but even then I was told this was a traffic study."
Christie later added, "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."

Chris Christie's denials in George Washington Bridge closure scandal (video)As the scandal has emerged and grown, New Jersey Gov Chris Christie has repeatedly denied any connection between his office and the decision by two aides he appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to close two local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in early September 2013. A compilation of his statements throughout the month of December 2013. (Video by compilation by Brian Donohue/The-Star-Ledger)

During a news conference on Dec. 13, Christie said, "It was certainly well after the whole thing was over before I heard about it."
He added, "The first I ever heard about the issue was when it was first reported in the press, which I think was in the aftermath of the leaking of (Patrick) Foye's email. I think that was the first I heard of it, but it was certainly well after the whole thing was over."
That e-mail was first disclosed Oct. 1 by the Wall Street Journal, more than two weeks after the closures ended.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), a chairman of the joint legislative committee investigating the lane closures, said "The allegations being made by Mr. Wildstein through his attorney lends credence to the skepticism about the Governor's statement. It validates the line of questioning the committee has chosen to pursue."

"I am curious (Wildstein) has documents that at a minimum question the governor's veracity, yet he did not provide them to the committee when he was subpoenaed," Wisniewski said.
He said it was possible the committee's request for documents was so narrow it excluded by date or subject matter what Wildstein claims to have now that implicates Christie.
But a Republican on the committee, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi of Bergen County, said she saw the letter as “vague” and a “last ditch effort” for Wildstein to get the Port Authority for his legal bills fees.
“At this point, nobody can really make any sort of judgment on what the letter is even attempting to infer,” Schepisi said. “Do I find the letter to be troublesome? Yes. Do I think based upon what’s put forth in the letter, does it change the landscape at all? No." All it does is put forth a tremendous amount of unanswered questions."

Attorney for David Wildstein says immunity might equal answers on GW Bridge scandalAt the close of the Jan. 9, 2014 Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal engulfing the administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an attorney for a key figure in the investigation says his client might cooperate with the committee's probe if he is granted immunity from criminal prosecution. Alan Zegas, attorney representing former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein had instructed him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right and not answer questions during the hearing, frustrating committee members. (Video by Brian Donohue / The Star-Ledger)

She added, “I don’t see it as a smoking gun in any sort of fashion.”
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said, "I am not so sure what this letter means at all."

"Look, from my perspective and Fort Lee's perspective, we have credibility issues with Mr. Wildstein," Sokolich told CNN. "He is certainly bucking for immunity."

He added, "I don't want the state's highest office to be implicated in this. I don't. I take the governor at his word. However, this letter seems to imply perhaps there was knowledge he knew during" the lane closures.

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee pounced on the disclosure, saying in a statement, "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."
"Chris Christie said he barely knew David Wildstein. That was untrue," the spokesman, Mo Elleithee, said. "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."

In the letter to the Port Authority, Zegas said the agency "not offer one single reason" why his client was not entitled to representation and coverage under its bylaws.
Zegas said he was informed Jan. 24 by e-mail that Wildstein's request had been denied. The authority stated, "[B]ased on the current facts and circumstances, it is apparent that the Port Authority's provision of legal representation ... would not be warranted under the Port Authority's By-Laws."
"What about Mr. Wildstein's circumstances is so 'apparent?'" Zegas wrote, noting that Wildstein refused to answer any questions or provide any testimony when he appeared before the Assembly transportation committee last month.
Zegas said Wildstein's request was made after a similar request by Bill Baroni, the authority's former deputy executive director, but Baroni's request is still pending.
Zegas said the Port Authority could not make a sound decision about representation because of "palpable conflicts at every level" of its hierarchy.
Wildstein, who attended Livingston High School with Christie and later became the town’s mayor, called for the unannounced closure of local access lanes at the nation’s busiest bridge in Fort Lee last September — a move that led to days of heavy traffic for thousands of motorists.
Democrats have accused the Christie administration of orchestrating the closures as political payback because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor declined to endorse the governor for re-election. When questioned by a state Assembly committee earlier this month, Wildstein took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.
Star-Ledger staff writers Matt FriedmanSusan K. Livio, and Salvador Rizzocontributed to this report.
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• Editorial: Chris Christie should resign if bombshell proves true
• Complete bridge scandal coverage