Police lieutenant under review in GW Bridge probe

Posted: February 19, 2014

The head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has ordered an investigation of a police lieutenant with ties to Gov. Christie who may have been on the scene during the George Washington Bridge lane closures with the agency official who oversaw them.

A Port Authority spokesman said Monday that Lt. Thomas "Chip" Michaels' status at the agency was "under review." On Sunday, an MSNBC report connected Michaels to communications with former Port Authority official David Wildstein during the September lane closures.

The communications, provided to state lawmakers by Wildstein and disclosed last month, include text messages exchanged by two unnamed senders the morning of Sept. 9, as the lane closures began.

"Want me to pik u up? Its [expletive] up here," one sender writes at 7:09 a.m.

A minute later, the other responds: "Around 7:30."

Later that morning, the first sender writes: "I may hav idea to make this better."

No names preface the messages, but MSNBC named Michaels as the first message-sender, pointing to an e-mail Wildstein sent to a Port Authority official at 7:28 that morning saying he was "going to take a ride with chip and see how it looks."

An e-mail trail has suggested that some access lanes to the busy bridge were closed as retaliation after the mayor of Fort Lee did not endorse the governor's reelection bid.

MSNBC noted that Robert Durando, the general manager of the bridge, had told lawmakers that on the first morning of the lane closures, Wildstein "left the communications desk with a police lieutenant assigned to the George Washington Bridge" to go to the bridge.

The day before the closures began, Michaels e-mailed another Port Authority official to ask if there would be a new traffic pattern on Sept. 9, and whether it would affect operations.

The Port Authority's executive director, Patrick Foye, on Sunday ordered the agency's inspector general to investigate Michaels, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Michaels could not be reached Monday.

Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), cochair of the legislative panel investigating the lane closures, said the link to Michaels in the MSNBC report "was not a conclusion myself or my cochair were able to reach through our review of the documents."

"This allegation raises the issue of additional people having contemporaneous knowledge of the lane closures," widening "the circle of people who may have had an opportunity to speak with the governor about it," Wisniewski said.

Michaels grew up with Christie in Livingston and coached one of Christie's sons in hockey, according to a 2010 Newark Star-Ledger story cited by MSNBC.

He is also the brother of Jeff Michaels, a Republican lobbyist who served as a campaign adviser to Christie in 2009.

"The governor has never had any conversations with either Jeff or Chip Michaels on this topic," Christie spokesman Colin Reed said Monday.

Christie fired a top aide and dismissed a political adviser last month after the disclosure of e-mails connecting his staff to the September lane closures, which lasted about four days and caused massive gridlock in Fort Lee.

The e-mails showed that the aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent Wildstein an e-mail in August that read: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied, "Got it."

Christie has said he played no role in any plot to jam traffic and did not know about the lane closures until they were over.

The exchange with Kelly was included in e-mails provided to lawmakers by Wildstein under subpoena - as were the documents with the apparent link to Michaels.

Wildstein resigned from the agency in December, along with Christie appointee Bill Baroni, who testified before lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a traffic study. Foye disputed that explanation.

According to the Bergen Record, Foye has requested an investigation also in response to a Record report that some motorists caught in the gridlock were told by Port Authority police to contact Fort Lee officials, raising questions as to who issued those instructions.

Wisniewski said Monday that he wanted to determine whether the Port Authority would share the findings from its internal review before commenting on the committee's approach.

Lawmakers have issued several dozen subpoenas since January in the probe of the lane closures, which are also under review by federal prosecutors.


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990

@maddiehanna

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