TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A day after Gov. Chris Christie issued an apology and fired an aide in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, new information has been revealed.
A New Jersey State Assembly panel released hundreds of pages of internal documents Friday afternoon as federal prosecutors and others examine the case.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chair of the Transportation Committee released the following statement when the documents were released:
“The documents submitted by David Wildstein and his attorney are documents they deemed specifically related to the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge as per our subpoena request. Included in these documents is a reference to what appears to be a meeting between Port Authority Chairman David Samson and the governor one week before Bridget Kelly issued the order to cause ‘traffic problems’ in Fort Lee. By submitting these documents, Mr. Wildstein is telling us they are related to the lane closures in some way. The question that demands answering is how?”
One email from Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye dated Sept. 13, the final day of the lane closures, reads:
“After reading last night’s media pendings, I made inquiries and received calls on this matter which is very troubling. Here is what I learned: reversing over 25 years of PA GWB operations, the three lanes in Fort Lee eastbound to the GWB were reduced to one lane on Monday of this week without notifying Fort Lee, the commuting public we serve, the ED or Media,” it began.
“A decision of this magnitude should be made only after careful deliberation and upon sign off by the ED. Reports are that Fort Lee has experienced severe traffic delays engulfing the entire Fort Lee area since Monday. I am appalled by the lack of process failure to inform our customers and Fort Lee and most of all by the dangers created to the public interest, so I am reversing this decision now effective as soon as TBT and PAPD tell me it is safe to do so today,” Foye’s email continued.
In another email sent Sept. 13, Foye wrote, “I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both states.”
The scandal puts renewed focus on the bi-state bad blood between the New York and New Jersey contingents at the Port Authority, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“You can almost describe the Port Authority’s culture as that of the Hatfields and McCoys,” Wisniewski said. “You’ve got the New York side versus the New Jersey side. There seems to be a great deal of animus and a lack of sharing of information between the two.”
As another email illustrated, the public is furious over this entire saga, with drivers accusing the Port Authority of “playing god with people’s jobs,” CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider reported.
Fielding dozens of questions from reporters Thursday, Christie adamantly denied any personal “knowledge or involvement” in the lane closures that caused major backups leading to the bridge in Fort Lee and said he fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly.
“I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” Christie said during a nearly two-hour long news conference in Trenton.
Kelly was the latest casualty in the scandal. Two others, including Port Authority Christie appointee David Wildstein, have resigned in the past few weeks.
“I am a very sad person today. That’s the emotion I feel,” Christie said. “A person close to me betrayed me. A person I gave high governmental office to, betrayed me. A person I trusted and counted on for five years betrayed me.”
The investigation broke wide open Wednesday with the release of emails and text messages that suggested Kelly arranged the traffic jams in September to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Emails
The gridlock delayed emergency vehicles, school buses and countless commuters for four days.
As Friday progressed, new motives started floating around Democratic circles. Some said so-called “bridgegate” may have been in retaliation for state legislators who blocked Christie’s Supreme Court appointees.
Back in August, the governor touted one of his nominees, calling him “just the total package.” Later in that same press conference he slammed State Sen. Loretta Weinberg and called her an “animal” for opposing his choice.
Fort Lee is Weinberg’s district.
The next day Kelly wrote in a message to Wildstein, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“Got it,” Wildstein replied. A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the bridge. The lane closures were not announced in advance.
Weinberg told CBS 2’s Don Champion she’s convinced some kind of malicious motive was behind the lane closures, adding the governor’s lack of trying to get to the bottom of what happened proves it.
“He did everything possible but try to find out what happened. But then when he couldn’t deny it anymore, ‘oh my God I’m heartbroken.’ Well, I don’t buy it,” said Weinberg, who is also New Jersey’s Senate majority leader.
In the back-and-forth emails and text messages that followed, Christie loyalists gloated over the traffic jams and called the Fort Lee mayor “an idiot” and “this little Serbian.”
For weeks, Christie had asserted that the closings were not punitive but were part of a traffic study and that no one on his staff was involved.
On Thursday, he acknowledged that was a lie, that his staff misled him. He said he still had no idea whether there even was a traffic study.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution,” Christie said of the lane closings. “And I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
Christie said he believed his staff in part because he had never heard of Sokolich and had no idea the Christie camp was even seeking the Democrat’s endorsement.
Still, the governor said: “I am responsible for what happened. I am sad to report to the people of New Jersey that we fell short.”
After the news conference, Christie traveled to Fort Lee and personally apologized to Sokolich at a closed-door meeting.
Sokolich said he accepted Christie’s apology at the meeting and he was appreciative of the governor’s appearance, even though he advised against it earlier Thursday. The governor also apologized to the residents of Fort Lee.
“The biggest concern is that we make sure that this never, ever, ever happens again in the future,” Sokolich said. “We were unconditionally provided with that assurance.”
Six state residents, though, filed a federal lawsuit against Christie, the state, the Port Authority and others, calling the traffic jams “deliberate actions” and saying they were “trapped on local roads” and “late for work and docked pay.”
“It doesn’t matter at all to the lawsuit whether knew personally or not. As he says, this is his fault,” attorney Rosemarie Arnold said. “It’s his administration. It’s his responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the chief federal prosecutor in New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, said he is “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.”
The Legislature and the Port Authority Inspector General are also investigating. Using public resources for political ends can be a crime.
Wildstein was found in contempt by a legislative committee on Thursday after he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.
Besides firing Kelly, Christie cut ties to former campaign manager Bill Stepien, asking him to withdraw a bid to become the next state GOP chairman.
The governor said he was disturbed by the “callous indifference” displayed by Stepien in the emails released Wednesday.
New Jersey residents appear to have mixed reactions following the developments in the scandal, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.
Joe Forte said he believes Christie was aware of the situation before this week.
“I definitely believe, you know, that he was very well aware of the whole situation and rolling a few heads just to make it look like he’s doing something about it,” Forte said.
Another resident told Jones he thinks Christie has done a good job in handling the scandal.
“He acted like a leader. He fired the right people. (I’m) impressed and in favor of it,” the resident said.
Regardless if residents believe he knew or not, many agreed that Christie’s political future may take a hit, Jones reported.
And while residents remain divided, the scandal has had a surprising effect on political opponents: bringing them together, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
“We’re united in mutual disgust. It is incredible,” said Analilia Mejia, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.
Meji started a petition on Moveon.org calling for the governor to step down.
“So we’re calling for the governor to do the right thing and gracefully resign,” Meji said.
Tea Part activist Wayne Allyn Root told Haskell he believes Christie is getting what he deserves.
“I think that what Christie did was wrong and I think that he is out as any Republican presidential nominee,” Root said.
In less than two weeks, Christie plans to celebrate his inauguration at Ellis Island. He will also outline his second-term priorities in the coming weeks and begin an aggressive national travel schedule as chairman of the governors’ group, a role that gives him a chance to broaden his network of big-money donors.
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