New documents show apparent bridge scheme

Charles McKenna, chief counsel to Gov. Christie, arrives at the Statehouse.
Charles McKenna, chief counsel to Gov. Christie, arrives at the Statehouse. (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: January 12, 2014

More than 2,000 pages of subpoenaed documents related to the George Washington Bridge scandal, released Friday, reveal an apparent scheme by Gov. Christie's appointees to conceal political motivations behind creating gridlock.

A traffic study of sorts was conducted even as vehicles were being snarled when two access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., were shut in what some allege was a way to punish the borough's Democratic mayor for not backing Christie for reelection.

Late Friday, in more fallout from the controversy, Christie notified the state Senate that he was withdrawing the nomination of his acting attorney general, John Hoffman, of Marlton, to Superior Court, the Associated Press reported.

The AP reported that Democrats had indefinitely delayed the confirmation hearing for Christie's chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd, the governor's nominee to replace Hoffman. O'Dowd supervised Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy Christie fired after her involvement in the bridge affair came to light.

According to the documents, released by legislative Democrats investigating the matter, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials collected pages of data on traffic volume in Fort Lee.

For example, one exhibit, a graph, shows how travel time on a normal day at the bridge compared with travel time on a day in which lanes were closed.

The Port Authority conducted an "early assessment of the benefits of the trial" on Sept. 12 - the fourth day of the lane closures. While traffic improved for those driving on major highways, local traffic experienced "an additional 2,800 vehicle hours of delay," according to the documents.

The assessment ended with: "Conclusions TBD."

In the documents, those who worked for Christie's appointees at the Port Authority referred to the supposed traffic study as an "operation" and a "test."

One of those officials - Robert Durando, the bridge's general manager - testified before an Assembly panel last month that David Wildstein, a Christie appointee, instructed him not to inform others about the plan.

The documents make clear that Wildstein directed the lane closures and even planned to visit Fort Lee to assess traffic.

On Sept. 10, the second day of traffic backups, Durando wrote an e-mail to Cedrick Fulton, the authority's inspector of tunnels, bridges, and terminals: "Good Morning. Just got off the phone with DW. He'd like to continue the test . . . through tomorrow." He wrote the same thing the next day.

Four days earlier, Darcy Licorish, inspector of the Port Authority police department, wrote that he had been informed by Durando that Wildstein had instructed him "to change the traffic pattern," reducing the number of toll lanes set up to accommodate traffic from Fort Lee from three to one.

The documents are the result of subpoenas issued last month to seven officials of the Port Authority as lawmakers investigate why most access lanes onto the bridge were closed without warning to local officials.

Until this week, Christie had denied any involvement by his staff and said he had no reason to doubt one of his Port Authority appointees, Bill Baroni, who told legislators the closures were part of a traffic study arranged by Wildstein. Both men have since resigned.

On Thursday, Christie fired Kelly after an e-mail surfaced a day earlier indicating she and Wildstein were involved in the decision to close the lanes - and not in a way suggesting a study.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote Aug. 13. Wildstein's reply: "Got it."

Christie, announcing the firing, maintained that he knew nothing of a plot to close the lanes before some documents, including Kelly's e-mail, were first published Wednesday by the Bergen Record.

Christie - who said he felt "betrayed" and "humiliated" - also announced the departure of Bill Stepien, a close political adviser, whose e-mails with Wildstein were disclosed Wednesday, including a reference to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich as "an idiot."

Among the 900 pages provided by Wildstein are text messages on Aug. 5 mentioning apparent arrangements for a meeting between Christie and David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority board of commissioners. The exchange does not indicate the purpose of the meeting, or whether it did occur.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), who is leading the legislative investigation, said the exchange raises questions.

"By submitting these documents, Mr. Wildstein is telling us they are related to the lane closures in some way," he said. "The question that demands answering is, how?"

On Thursday, Wildstein repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment while appearing before Wisniewski's committee under subpoena.

The U.S. Attorney's Office is also reviewing the case.

On Friday, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), said lawmakers would continue to authorize the use of subpoena power.

"I'm not challenging his words," Sweeney said of Christie. "All I'm saying is, this investigation doesn't end with an apology."

Durando wrote Sept. 9 that he had received complaints from commuters and had experienced an "unpleasant interaction" with Fort Lee police.

The documents confirmed testimony that Foye, an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was not aware of any traffic study. In a scathing Sept. 13 e-mail to Durando, Fulton, Baroni, and others, Foye wrote that he would end the lane closures, calling them "abusive" and "ill-advised."

Foye also wrote he believed the closures violated the law.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990

Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.

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