Christie Fires Senior Staff Member Implicated In Bridge Scandal

STATE — Gov. Chris Christie fired a senior aide and apologized to “the people of New Jersey” and “the people of Fort Lee” for a series of lane closures affecting the George Washington Bridge last fall that appear to have been politically motivated.

Yesterday, a series of emails between top officials in the Governor’s Office and executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were published that suggest that a series of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge for five days in September were retaliation against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor because he declined to endorse the Republican for re-election.

Democrats suggested the lane closures were a political stunt but allies of the governor denied that and Gov. Chris Christie himself originally joked that he had moved cones in order to block the lanes in question.

Christie continued to deny involvement in the scandal. “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,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

The email and text message exchanges were among documents subpoenaed from the authority and individual conspirators as part of a New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee investigation of the incident led by Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

Political allies of the governor crafted a story about the lane closures being necessary for a traffic study that never existed, but that only raised additional questions that helped unravel the scandal.

Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff in the Governor’s Office, sent an Aug. 13 email saying that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” to David Wildstein, the GOP political operative who was Port Authority director of interstate capital projects.

Wildstein used his power at the authority to close lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in September, triggering a week of massive traffic jams.

Christie fired Kelly on Thursday. Wildstein, along with Bill Baroni, Christie’s top appointed staff member at the Port Authority, resigned last month amid an investigation into the decision to close the access lanes. The governor also said today that his two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, will not take over the state Republican Party as previously announced.

One exchange between two unidentified conspirators suggests the incident was politically motivated: “I feel badly about the kids,” said a text message sent on the second morning of the closures, after Fort Lee officials informed Port Authority officials that school buses were severely delayed by the traffic jams.

“They are the children of Buono voters,” stated the reply, referring to Christie’s Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.

In an interview that aired on MSNBC, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said, “I’m not rooting for an email to surface that specifically and expressly has the governor authorizing this retributions…. “But I will tell you the credibility level is getting reduced and reduced and reduced as this story continues to move on.”

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