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31 Jan, 2014 23:27

Bombshell? Ex-aide alleges Christie was behind NJ bridge closing scheme

Bombshell? Ex-aide alleges Christie was behind NJ bridge closing scheme

The New Jersey governor was not only aware of the bridge closings that has resulted in a scandal for his administration but was responsible for them, according to the former transportation official who claims he has evidence to prove his allegations.

David Wildstein, who resigned from the Port Authority before news broke that he was the one who personally oversaw the September lane closing on George Washington bridge, was a high school friend of Governor Chris Christie and was given his position with Christie's blessing.

A letter released by Wildstein's lawyer to the New York Times Friday now says the decision to shut down three lanes of the busiest bridge in the US, which is under New Jersey's domain, was “the Christie administration’s order.”

Earlier this month emails surfaced between Wildstein and Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, saying “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” after the mayor of that town did not endorse Christie's re-election campaign.

The governor is seen as a likely presidential candidate in 2016 and has denied any knowledge of a retaliatory scheme. Now, though, Wildstein claims that “evidence 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 during a two-hour press conference,” in the beginning of January.

Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” said the letter from attorney Alan Zegas, as quoted by the Times.

Christie's office issued a statement Friday in response to the accusation, with the administration maintaining the governor “had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise on January 8. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein's other assertions.”

The closures that closed multiple lanes of onramp to the bridge resulted in four days of heavy traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey from September 9 through September 13. Christie fired Bridget Anne Kelly when the emails surfaced, saying he was “blindsided” by the action of his aide and Wildstein.

The Fort Lee EMS department has said that it took emergency crews one hour to wade through traffic and respond to four medical calls on the first day of the traffic freeze. One woman, a 91-year-old, who laid unconscious waiting for EMS to treat her cardiac arrest, later died. It is unknown if her life would have been saved without the bridge closure.

Local political experts who have had a front row seat to Christie's rise to the governorship have questioned his claims of ignorance from the beginning. Barbara Buono, Christie's rival in the gubernatorial election last fall, told the Daily Beast when the emails first surfaced that the New Jersey heavyweight will eventually be found responsible.

This is a guy who runs a paramilitary operation,” she told the Daily Beast. “His people don't sneeze without checking with him first. But what I think was really the most damning [revelation] was the cavalier attitude that these folks had about subjecting children and the public to public safety hazards. These are terrible, terrible people and their ringleader is Chris Christie.”

Those expectations have yet to subside weeks later, with more and more pundits wondering if this scandal will be a fatal blow to Christie's presidential aspirations. Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, told USA Today Friday's email was a “bombshell.”

Most of us who have watched the governor over the past several weeks anticipated this, given his demeanor has been rather un-Christie-like,” she said.

Adding to the Governor’s spate of bad publicity, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer accused the Christie administration this month of having threatened to withhold relief funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy unless she supported a real estate development complex proposed by a group favored by Christie.

Whether the latest accusation against Christie will prove to be the bombshell many pundits had been expecting remained to be seen.

Wildstein letter is NOT a "smoking gun." (That wld be the actual evidence it promises). But it carries the strongest whiff of gunpowder yet.

— John Heilemann (@jheil) January 31, 2014