New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office swung back at the New York Times and a former official and ally Saturday, a day after the paper published a letter from the official's lawyers claiming evidence exists that Christie was aware of politically-motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
Christie aides sent out an e-mail dismissing the letter, written by the attorney for former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, as an attempt both to get Wildstein's legal fees paid by the Port Authority, and to encourage prosecutors to grant the Christie appointee immunity over his role in the George Washington Bridge lane closing.
"Bottom line - David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein," Christie's office said in the email.
Wildstein pleaded the fifth last month to a New Jersey legislative panel investigating the apparent politically motivated lane closures on the bridge. Christie fired top aides Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien for their roles in the incident.
"[E]vidence 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 he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee," Wildstein's lawyer wrote in the letter. "Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
The Christie email, with the subject line "5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That's Not A Bombshell," also blasts the Times, which was forced to tone down its initial reporting on the letter after it was released.
Christie and Wildstein have known each other since high school, though Christie said they were never very close. But Christie tapped his former classmate to be his "eyes and ears" inside the bi-state transit agency. When Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority last December amid questions about the lane closings, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak called him a "tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority."
According to email records turned over by Wildstein to the New Jersey State Assembly, Drewniak and Wildstein had dinner two nights before his resignation. "Thanks again for all your sound advice last night, I always appreciate your friendship," Wildstein wrote to Drewniak the day before he resigned.
Michael Czin, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said in response to Christie's office's email, "If what Christie says about Wildstein in his oppo-dump is true, why did Christie's administration appoint him to such a senior position at the Port Authority?"
The full email from Christie's office is below:
5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That's Not A Bombshell
1. New York Times Bombshell Not A Bombshell. 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." Forced to change the lead almost immediately, the Times was roundly criticized, and its editor was forced to issue this extraordinary statement to the Huffington Post:
- · "We've made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more."
2. 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.
- · GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: “So what I can tell you is if people find that hard to believe, I don't know what else to say except to tell them that 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, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. And there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else's attention.” (Press Conference, 1/9/14)
3. 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.
- · GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: “And I knew nothing about this. And until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, but even then I was told this was a traffic study.” (Press Conference, 1/9/14)
4. In David Wildstein's past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as "tumultuous" and someone who "made moves that were not productive."
- · As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
- · He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
- · He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
- · He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
- · He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people's names without telling them
- · Thomas L. Adams, Wildstein’s Council Running Mate: “It Was A Tumultuous Time.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie's Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
- · Robert Leopold, Livingston’s former Democratic Mayor: Wildstein Was “A Political Animal” Who “Frightened People.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie's Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
- · “He Was A Very Contentious Person.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie's Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,”Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
- · Wildstein Created “Culture Of Fear” Within Port Authority. “He and others referred to a ‘culture of fear’ within the authority, reflected in testimony from other authority officials about their reluctance to report to Mr. Foye or others what they considered an ‘odd’ request from Mr. Wildstein—to abruptly realign lanes that had been in place for decades and to tell no one about it.” (Ted Mann, “Port Authority Chief Testifies in George Washington Bridge Flap,” The Wall Street Journal, 12/9/13)
5. 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.
- · Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich: "Look, from my perspective and Fort Lee's perspective, we have credibility issues with Mr. Wildstein…He is certainly bucking for immunity." (Susan K. Livio, “GWB letter raises credibility questions for Chris Christie, Port Authority official, politicians say,” Star-Ledger,2/1/14)
- · Assemblyman John Wisniewski: "‘I am curious (Wildstein) has documents … he did not provide them to the committee when he was subpoenaed,’ Wisniewski added.” (Susan K. Livio, “GWB letter raises credibility questions for Chris Christie, Port Authority official, politicians say,” Star-Ledger,2/1/14)
Bottom line - David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.