New documents released in Chris Christie ‘Bridgegate’ scandal
New Jersey legislators released on Friday more than 1,000 pages of documents that may shed light on a bridge traffic jam apparently orchestrated by Republican Governor Chris Christie’s top aides to settle a political score.
The documents were made public just days after New Jersey officials released emails that appeared to show the Republican governor’s staff plotting a massive traffic jam in September, seemingly to retaliate against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee because he had not endorsed Christie’s re-election campaign.
On Thursday, Christie, a star of his party seen as a likely contender for the White House in 2016, fired the staffer who had sent emails calling for trouble at the commuter choke point and repeatedly apologized in a two-hour news conference.
Christie said on Thursday that he had been “blindsided” by the emails and had no previous knowledge that his staff was involved in the September 9 through 13 blockage of the George Washington Bridge, the busiest in the United States.
Christie supporters and political foes expressed doubt and anger on Friday over the governor’s claims of ignorance of the intentional traffic jam that paralyzed Fort Lee, New Jersey, site of entry points to the bridge.
“I think he’s lying,” said Tatjana Schimke, 36, a housewife from Montclair, New Jersey. “He seems to have a very tight knit team. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who doesn’t know what his team is doing.”
One of Christie’s major political opponents, state Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who represents Fort Lee, said she had serious doubts that the governor learned of the bridge plot only two days ago.
“That is so beyond belief for Mr. Hands-on-I’m-responsible-for-everything-in-New-Jersey-the-buck-s tops-with-me Gov. Christie,” Weinberg told MSNBC on Friday.
The scandal, which had been brewing for weeks, became national news on Wednesday when New Jersey officials released emails that appeared to show Christie’s staff plotting the lane closures in September to retaliate against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s re-election campaign.
Christie had counted on his victory in November to show bipartisan appeal to increase his chances of winning his party’s nomination for president, political experts have said.
During Thursday’s news conference, Christie repeatedly apologized for his staff’s actions, denied any knowledge of them, and said he was not yet thinking about possibly running for president in 2016.
Christie has no public appearances scheduled for Friday.
Any implication in the documents released on Friday that Christie or his staff knew more about the plot than they have acknowledged could cause the scandal to dog Christie.
“He’s not fully in control of this story anymore,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history at Princeton University. “Because he took such a firm stand yesterday and was emphatic that this was it, any information that shows otherwise will continue the story and force him to put more time on it.”
Christie has long cultivated an image as a brash, tough-talking leader willing to buck his party for the good of his constituents. On Thursday, however, he struck a more humble tone, and said, “I am not a bully.”
U.S. attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor, has opened an investigation into the decision to close the bridge lanes.
The governor also faces a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court on Thursday by Rosemarie Arnold, a lawyer charging that area residents suffered financially from being trapped in traffic.
Vilma Oleri, whose 91-year-old mother died after her ambulance got caught in the first day of the traffic jam, told CNN she did not believe the traffic delays were the cause.
“I really believe in my heart that she was already gone when the ambulance go there,” Oleri said.
EMAIL FORETOLD JAMS
At the heart of Wednesday’s revelations was an email from Christie’s now-dismissed deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who wrote to a Port Authority executive in August, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The executive, David Wildstein, replied, “Got it.”
Wildstein later admitted to ordering the lane closures and resigned his post. He supplied the emails to the media in response to a subpoena issued by a panel of state lawmakers.
Appearing before the panel on Thursday, Wildstein declined to answer questions, repeatedly invoking the constitutional protection not to say anything that might incriminate him.
Representative Bill Pascrell of New Jersey, a Democrat, offered no sympathy for Christie’s repeated assertions on Thursday that he had been stunned and “heartbroken” by the news of his aides’ involvement in the scheme.
“The victims are the folks in Fort Lee, New Jersey,” Pascrell told MSNBC. “These are the real victims. So don’t try to victimize yourself when you’re being questioned.”