Attorney For Former Port Authority Exec: Christie Knew Of GWB Lane Closures As They Happened
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The attorney for one of Gov. Chris Christie’s top appointees at the Port Authority who lost his job over the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal says “evidence exists” the governor himself knew about the lane closures when they happened in September.
The letter from David Wildstein’s attorney Alan Zegas to the Port Authority 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” three weeks ago.
In the letter sent Friday, Zegas described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order.”
On Friday evening, the governor’s office issued a statement reacting to the letter.
“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 statement said.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Letter From Wildstein’s Attorney
Christie also appeared Friday evening at Howard Stern’s 60th birthday celebration at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown, where he introduced Jon Bon Jovi before a musical performance, cracked a few jokes, and talked about Super Bowl XLVIII.
Christie did not address the bridge scandal at the event, and rushed past Sloan and other reporters as he left despite being mobbed by cameras. He smiled and waved, but answered no questions, as he got into a car and left.
The governor has maintained that he knew nothing of the lane closures until a state legislative panel began investigating.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue in its planning or its execution and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncovered, this was handled in a callous and indifferent way,” Christie said at a press conference earlier this month. ”I knew nothing about this until it started to be reported in the papers about the closures. But even then, I was told it was a traffic study.”
As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, Christie has always insisted that he knew nothing about the September closure of local toll lanes leading to the bridge until after the fact.
“I knew nothing about this until it started to be in the papers about the closures, but even then I was told it was a traffic study,” he said.
Zegas’ letter contends some of what the governor said at his Jan. 9 press conference was inaccurate.
“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.
The Christie administration denied this claim in Friday evening’s statement.
“The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions,” the statement concluded.
During the governor’s marathon press conference after the scandal erupted, he denied press accounts portraying him and Wildstein as longtime pals, CBS 2′s Tony Aiello reported.
“David and I were not friends in high school, we were not even acquaintances in high school,” Christie said at the time. ”We went 23 years without seeing each other and in the years we did see each other, we passed in the hallways.”
Aiello reported that the Wall Street Journal has posted photos of Christie and Wildstein laughing together at an event on Sept. 11, which was one of the days the lanes were closed and traffic was snarled in Fort Lee.
U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who represents Fort Lee, told WCBS 880 on Friday evening that he had read the email from Zegas and the governor’s response.
“Obviously, somebody didn’t tell the truth and we’re going to find out who it is. When you don’t tell the truth, that’s not necessarily breaking the law but on the other hand, you’re losing more and more of the confidence of the people and that’s the situation we face now,” said Pascrell.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), who is heading the investigation into the “Bridgegate” scandal, is waiting to see exactly what information Wildstein’s attorney has, and find out why Wildstein did not turn over the information when he was subpoenaed to do so weeks ago.
“It’s troubling that we essentially asked for all this information, and now in this letter, he raises this allegation that there are things that would undermine the governor’s credibility,” Wisniewski told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon.
It is not clear why the allegations about Christie’s knowledge just came out, Wisniewski said.
“There could be a lot of explanations — maybe they were somebody else’s documents or they recently came into this possession,” he said.
But whatever the case, he said, the allegations are a big deal.
“It’s premature to make a judgment, but clearly, a very serious allegation where Wildstein’s attorney is saying the governor isn’t telling the truth,” Wisniewski told Sloan.
Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also weighed in on the accusations Friday evening.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Giuliani said Christie needed to make sure all of his statements were accurate, and be specific about when he found out about the bridge lane closure scandal through newspaper reports as he claimed he did.
But he said Wildstein did not give any indication that Christie knew about the plot to close the lanes beforehand, and “there is no evidence of that.”
“Now, the question is, when did he find out, and how did he find out?” Giuliani said. “And so far, Wildstein’s letter does not really contradict that the governor did find out afterwards and he found out from the newspapers. What we need to know is the answer, and I’m sure the U.S. Attorney will get the answer.”
He also said it was necessary to question Giuliani – for everyone involved.
“The best result for Chris Christie is that he is cleared. If he were cleared without any kind of investigation, then his political opponents would use it against him. If he is cleared with a full investigation from an Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney, that’s going to make him once again a very viable candidate,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani said Wildstein’s attorney likely made the allegations because Wildstein wants immunity from prosecution.
The decision to close down two of three approach lanes to the bridge caused gridlock for days in Fort Lee.
Christie announced in the Jan. 9 news conference that his deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly had been fired.
Emails revealed last month showed Kelly sent an email to Wildstein over the summer saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Wildstein replied, “Got it,” and allegedly orchestrated the lane closures that snarled traffic in the borough for days.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Emails
The mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, did not endorse Christie for re-election. Mayor Mark Sokolich said he believed the lane closures were political retribution.
Wildstein and another Christie appointee at the Port Authority have lost their jobs over the scandal.
The lanes were closed during the first week of school in September. Christie won re-election over Democratic challenger Barbara Buono in a landslide.
The federal government and the state legislature are investigating.
Wildstein may be angling for immunity from possible prosecution as the U.S. Attorney investigates, Aiello reported.
The letter does not say Christie knew the lane closures were some kind of political payback, only that he knew about the closures while they were happening.
Wildstein, who resigned in December, was called to testify before a New Jersey State Assembly committee earlier this month but invoked his Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer most questions. As a result, he was held in contempt by the committee.
Christie, a second-term Republican governor, has often been mentioned as a possible 2016 presidential candidate.
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