Political MoJo

New Bridge Scandal Emails: Port Authority Official Said Christie Team's Lane Closure "Violates Federal Law"

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 4:13 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

Editor's note: Alhough the bulk of these emails were released to the public for the first time on Friday, the contents of some were reported by the Wall Street Journal in December.

In a September 13 email released Friday by the New Jersey Assembly panel probing Republican Gov. Chris Christie's George Washington Bridge scandal, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye wrote that the decision to shut down access lanes to the bridge violated state and federal laws.

"I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both States," Foye noted, explaining his decision to reopen those lanes to traffic. "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."

Foye sent his email after four days of heavy traffic jams caused by the closures to nearly a dozen officials at the Port Authority, including chairman David Samson, a Christie appointee. 

Private messages released on Wednesday strongly suggested that a top aide to Christie orchestrated the lane closures as an act of political revenge. Samson's role in the scandal remains unclear. 

Screenshot from new emails released as part of an investigation into politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge

 

On Thursday, Christie expressed confidence that Samson played no part in causing the Fort Lee traffic disaster, saying, "I am convinced that he had absolutely no knowledge of this, that this was executed at the operational level and never brought to the attention of the [Port Authority] board of commissioners." Yet when Foye ordered the lanes reopened on September 13, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority official wrote to a Christie staffer, "We are appropriately going nuts. Samson helping us to retaliate."

Another email released on Friday shows an effort to keep the story from going public. On the night of September 13, Foye received an email from Bill Baroni, a Port Authority official appointed by Christie (who resigned in December as the scandal was unfolding). It read, "I am on my way to the office to discuss. There can be no public discourse."

And another email released on Friday indicates that the Christie crew was worried about Foye. On September 18, Samson wrote Scott Rechler, the vice chair of the Port Authority Board of Commissioners,* that he strongly suspected Foye of "stirring up trouble" by speaking anonymously to a Wall Street Journal reporter about the Fort Lee traffic debacle. He went on: "This is yet another example of a story—we've seen it before—where [Foye] distances himself from an issue in the press and rides in on a white horse to save the day In this case, he's playing in traffic, made a big mistake."

These emails were released as part of a collection of hundreds of emails and text messages that journalists and investigators are now scrutinizing. Read them here.

Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to note Rechler's position in the Port Authority. He is the vice chair of its Board of Commissioners.

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Chris Christie's Not in the Clear Yet. These Text Messages Show Why.

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 3:57 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie

At his Thursday press conference, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he played no part in causing a traffic jam last fall on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. He ultimately took responsibility for the debacle, but Christie said his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had ordered the traffic jam without his knowledge. Emails showed that she had been in cahoots with David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie fired Kelly on Thursday, and he insisted that she was the only member of his inner circle who knew that the traffic mess was politically motivated and not the result of a supposed traffic study.

Yet text messages turned over to investigators by Wildstein raise the possibility that months before the disclosure this week of Kelly's bombshell email—"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee"—other senior Christie aides knew the traffic study excuse wasn't true.

Here's the backstory. The traffic jam happened on the week of September 9 and quickly became a local controversy. Lawmakers began investigating, and on November 25, Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee at the Port Authority, testified before the New Jersey Assembly's transportation, public works, and independent authorities committee. Baroni told lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a study to determine whether Fort Lee should have three dedicated lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge.

State lawmakers didn't buy Baroni's explanation. "I think that at best this was clumsy and ham-handed," said committee chair John Wisniewski, a Democrat. "At worst, this was political mischief by a political appointee."

Immediately after his testimony, according to documents released this week, Baroni texted David Wildstein asking how Christie administration officials in Trenton, the state capital, had reacted to his testimony:

[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] David Wildstein: You did great
[11/25/2013 11:58 AM] Bill Baroni: Trenton feedback
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: ?
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] David Wildstein: Good
[REDACTED MESSAGE]
[11/25/2013 11:59 AM] Bill Baroni: Just good? Shit
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: No i have only texted brudget [Bridget Anne Kelly] and Nicole they were VERY happy
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] Bill Baroni: Ok
[11/25/2013 12:00 PM] David Wildstein: Both said you are doing great
[11/25/2013 12:06 PM] David Wildstein: Charlie said you did GREAT

Note the two names in that exchange we have placed in bold type: Nicole and Charlie. According to public records and news stories, the only Nicole politically close to Christie at the time was Nicole Davidman, who was the governor's campaign finance director in 2013 and the wife of Christie's press secretary. The only Charlie in Christie's inner circle was Charles McKenna, Christie's chief counsel and the aide who helped lead Christie's internal investigation of the bridge mess. State investigators assume that the Charlie mentioned in this text is McKenna, according to a legislative source, but they are not yet certain about Nicole (though they have not yet identified other possibilities).

Presuming these texts refer to Davidman and McKenna, here's what needs to be answered: Were these two Christie lieutenants happy about Baroni's testimony for the same reason as Kelly? Both Kelly and Wildstein knew the study wasn't the true cause of the traffic mess, and it's reasonable to conclude that they were delighted because Baroni had stuck to that story and not said anything about Kelly instructing Wildstein to cause the jam that paralyzed traffic in Fort Lee for days. But did Charlie and Nicole cheer Baroni's bogus testimony in the same way? And what does it mean that Wildstein, the man who arranged the lane closures, lumped together Kelly, the aide who instigated the closures, and Nicole? (Christie touched on this only briefly in his press conference: "I believe that I've spoken to everyone who was mentioned in the emails except for Charlie McKenna, who is away at a family funeral. And I am confident, based upon my conversations with them, that they had no prior knowledge nor involvement in this situation.")

This is just one line of inquiry Bridgegate investigators ought to focus on. Christie asserts that Kelly was the only member of his political team in on the bridge caper. But if others were aware of Baroni's stonewalling, the governor has a problem—especially if that includes McKenna, whom Christie has used to probe the bridge scandal. At the least, it might be ill-advised for the governor to have a fellow who apparently praised Baroni's bogus testimony in charge of investigating the cover-up.

Christie's office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Meet the Other Mayor Accusing Chris Christie of Retaliation

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 2:08 PM EST

His city might not have been flooded with traffic as an act of political retribution, but Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop still considers himself Gov. Chris Christie's number one enemy.

Like Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, Fulop wouldn't endorse Christie in last year's gubernatorial race. (Though Fulop is a Democrat, Christie spoke at his inauguration in July.) Fulop alleged in a statement Thursday that he received swift punishment from the governor's office after informing the Christie camp in September that he would not be endorsing the Republican incumbent. Fulop claimed that Christie officials canceled meetings and rejected his requests to discuss city issues immediately following the news.

"Cancelations include an entire day of meetings with state commissioners scheduled to be in Jersey City that was abruptly canceled, with each of the commissioners individually canceling within an hour of the time I communicated my intention to not endorse," Fulop said.

The Jersey City mayor is referenced in the bridge closure emails released on Wednesday. After being told that Sokolich was asking questions about the George Washington Bridge lane closures, recently resigned Port Authority official David Wildstein replied, "Radio silence. His name comes right after mayor Fulop." Fulop told the Jersey Journal that after seeing that exchange he believes he's "Enemy Number 1."

Shortly after Christie won re-election, Fulop announced plans to sue the Port Authority for $400 million. He claims the agency, which is run by New Jersey and New York, has not been paying enough taxes on the 32 properties it owns in Jersey City.

When Christie was asked about the Jersey City controversy during his long press conference on Thursday, he said he didn't know if Fulop's meetings were canceled for purposes of payback, and he promised to look into the matter. "What Mayor Fulop knows is, when we agree with him from a policy perspective we'll work with him," Christie said. "When we disagree with him, we'll express those disagreements. And sometimes that'll mean friction."

He added: "Have I at times been angry with Mayor Fulop and disagreed with him? You bet I have."

Economy Adds 74,000 Jobs—Economists Predicted 200,000-Plus

| Fri Jan. 10, 2014 10:47 AM EST

The economy added just 74,000 jobs in December, which was fewer than expected, according to new numbers released by the Labor Department on Friday. The unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent. But as has been the case in previous months, this drop is due largely to the fact that many Americans left the labor force, and thus were not officially counted as unemployed by the government.

The number of jobs added in December was the smallest monthly gain in three years. Gains of over 200,000 jobs had been expected.

The unemployment rate for adult men and whites declined last month to 6.3 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the jobless rate for blacks and Hispanics remained disproportionately high at 11.9 percent and 8.3 percent. The unemployment rate for Asians remained at 4 percent. The rate for women held at 6 percent. 

In December (as in November), 7.8 million Americans were employed in part-time work because they could not find full-time jobs.

As in previous months, employment increased in low-wage service jobs. Jobs in retail, including in restaurants, bars, and clothing stores, rose by 55,000 in December. Temp work gained 40,000 jobs. 

Manufacturing added 9,000 jobs. Employment numbers in the healthcare industry held steady.

The number of long-term unemployed—those without a job for 27 weeks or more—remained at a whopping 37.7 percent of the unemployed last month. Federal unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless expired at the end of the year. The Senate recently voted to consider a bill renewing these benefits, but it is unclear if Republicans in the Senate and House will approve a final bill.

If Congress does not renew the benefits, we may see an even greater shrinkage in the labor force, as the long-term unemployed, who are some of the least employable Americans, no longer have the means to continue searching for jobs.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 10, 2014

Fri Jan. 10, 2014 10:27 AM EST

Private First Class Christopher Greene with Troop O (Outlaw), 4th Squadron, Combined Task Force Dragoon, occupies a security position during a partnership patrol with members of the Afghan Uniformed Police Dec. 30, 2013, at Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Troopers with Outlaw conducted a series of partner missions with the AUP near various security checkpoints throughout the province. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Edwards)

Christie Says, "I Am Not a Bully." Here Are 8 Videos of Him Yelling, Name-Calling, and Belittling People.

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 5:06 PM EST

On Thursday, New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie held a press conference to address allegations that his appointees orchestrated a dangerous traffic jam for political revenge. Christie maintained that he was deceived by a member of his "circle of trust" and noted that he had fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who was implicated in the scandal. He insisted that he had not known that Kelly ordered the traffic problems until the news broke on Wednesday. But many commentators have wondered if this whole episode—whether Christie was in the know or not—has bolstered the view that Christie is a bully.

Christie took issue with this characterization at the press conference. He asserted, "I am who I am. But I am not a bully…The tone that we've set here [is] that I'm willing to compromise." But those who have been the targets of Christie's wrath disagree. And here are 8 videos of Christie yelling, belittling people, and name-calling—and most of the clips are promoted by Christie himself on his popular YouTube page:

1. Christie to a teacher: "If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well then I have no interest in answering your question."

2. Christie to a former Navy SEAL: "Your rear end's going to get thrown in jail, idiot."

3. Christie to a reporter: "You know Tom, you must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America…you should really see me when I'm pissed."

4. Christie to a constituent: "Hey Gail, you know what, first off it's none of your business." 

​5. Christie to a former White House doctor: "This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV…she should shut up." 

​6. Christie to an Occupy Wall Street protester: "Something may be going down tonight, but it ain't going to be jobs, sweetheart."

7. Christie to a reporter: "Are you stupid?…I'm sorry for the idiot over there." 

8. Christie to a person on the street: "You're a real big shot. You're a real big shot. Just keep walking away. Keep walking." 

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Chris Christie: I Am "Heartbroken" and "Embarrassed" About Bridge Scandal—But Not Guilty

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 11:36 AM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired a top aide who ordered lane closures that caused a weeklong traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. Christie also forced his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who was aware of the lane closure plans, to drop out of the running to chair the New Jersey Republican Party, and told Stepien to cancel a lucrative contract with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Christie apologized to the people of Fort Lee and New Jersey and to the state Legislature for the lane closures. He said that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, "lied to me" about her role in the traffic mess, while insisting that he knew nothing about the decision to cause the traffic jam. "I am heartbroken that someone that I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust," Christie said.

Emails and text messages released Tuesday strongly suggest that Kelly, the senior Christie aide, ordered the traffic debacle as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who had declined to endorse Christie in his 2013 gubernatorial race. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to David Wildstein, a Port Authority official who resigned in the wake of the traffic jam.

Christie has denied that he personally made the call to close the bridge lanes that caused the traffic jam. "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 on Wednesday.

At his press conference, Christie reiterated that he had no role in the bridge debacle and that he first learned about it Wednesday after his morning workout. "I was blindsided yesterday morning," he said. "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." But he added that the responsibility for the scandal is his. "Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens on my watch, the good and the bad, and when mistakes are made, I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary to remediate them."

In response to critics who said Christie sent the tone of his administration, he said the bridge scandal was "the exception, not the rule." He said he would visit the borough of Fort Lee to apologize for the bridge scandal, and he pledged to "work cooperatively" with state and federal investigations into the scandal.

Shadowy Wisconsin Group That Helped Scott Walker Win His Recall Was Backed by the Koch Network

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 10:57 AM EST

Days before Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker's June 2012 recall election, two TV ads ran on stations statewide. Paid for by a group called the Coalition for American Values (CAV), the ads attacked the very notion of holding a recall election (even though it's in the state constitution) and featured supposed Wisconsin citizens speaking out against the recall. "I didn't vote for Scott Walker, but I'm definitely against the recall," one man says. In another ad, the narrator says, "Recall isn't the Wisconsin way...End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June 5th."

CAV put $400,000 behind those ads, which stoked a sense of unease about the recall among Wisconsin voters. Walker coasted to a seven-point victory. Exit polls strongly suggested that CAV's ads played a part in the governor's win. Yet the mystery surrounding the Coalition for American Values persisted. The group never disclosed how much it spent, how much it raised, or who funded it.

Until now. As first reported by the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, new tax filings reveal that the main source of CAV's funding was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, an Arizona nonprofit that gave CAV $510,000 in 2012. CPPR is a linchpin in a network of nonprofit groups Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists, use to shuffle money around the country while keeping donors anonymous. California's Fair Political Practices Commission identified the group as "the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers' dark money network of nonprofit corporations," and hit the group and a related nonprofit with a $1 million fine for failing to disclose donations made during the 2012 election season. All told, CPPR doled out $156 million in dark money in 2011 and 2012, a sizable chunk of the $407 million moved by the Kochs' network of nonprofit groups.

Run by a onetime Koch operative named Sean Noble, CPPR is expected to play less of a role in the Koch network going forward. The California investigation—which revealed the identities of hundreds of previously secret donors and private marketing material used by Republican operatives—brought unwanted scrutiny to the Kochs and their conservative and libertarian allies. An October 2012 Huffington Post story reported that Noble, the former "the wizard behind the screen" for the Kochs, had fallen out of favor. "Noble has had his wings clipped," one Republican operative told HuffPost.

The Center for Media and Democracy says it has filed a formal complaint with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board alleging that the Coalition for American Values violated state campaign finance laws by not disclosing its CPPR funding. A message left at the phone number listed on CAV's website was not returned.

VIDEO: David Corn on What Chris Christie's Bridge Scandal Means for 2016

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 10:19 AM EST

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Chris Matthews this week about what some traffic problems in Fort Lee could end up meaning for New Jersey governor Chris Christie's political ambitions. Watch here:

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 9, 2014

Thu Jan. 9, 2014 9:58 AM EST

Sgt. Jonathan Ayala, cyber network operator, hands radio antenna equipment to Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Phibbs, cyber network chief, both with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, during a communications exercise aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif., Jan. 6, 2014. The exercise is designed to prepare 15th MEU Marines for Exercise Iron Fist. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Emmanuel Ramos/Released)