Rabbi mocked in newly revealed bridge scandal e-mails

Bridget Anne Kelly: "Traffic problems in front of his house . . .?"
Bridget Anne Kelly: "Traffic problems in front of his house . . .?"
Posted: March 01, 2014

TRENTON - A now-fired aide to Gov. Christie and a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey didn't limit their talk of "traffic problems" to Fort Lee: They used the same line while mocking a rabbi, according to newly unredacted documents in the probe into the George Washington Bridge controversy.

The material, made public Thursday, was provided to lawmakers by the former Port Authority official, David Wildstein. It does not contain any evidence directly connecting Christie to the September lane closures at the bridge.

But it provides another glimpse into the conversations between Christie aides and Port Authority officials around the time of the closures, which caused gridlock in Fort Lee over four days. Some have alleged the closures were political payback to the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who did not endorse Christie's reelection.

Christie has said he played no part in the gridlock, which also is being investigated by federal prosecutors. He has said he did not know about the closures until they were over.

Also Thursday, federal investigators interviewed Michael Drewniak, Christie's press secretary and one of his closest advisers, Bloomberg News reported.

"During our meeting today with the United States Attorney's Office, we were assured that Mike is not a target of any investigation but a fact witness," Drewniak's attorney, Anthony Iacullo, said in a statement. "He will continue to cooperate fully with federal authorities as needed."

The unredacted exchanges indicate that Wildstein and the aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, apparently joked in August about causing "traffic problems" for a Middlesex County rabbi who Wildstein said "had officially pissed me off."

"We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?" Kelly texted Wildstein on Aug. 19, after Wildstein sent her a photo of a man identified in news reports as Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, a Christie supporter who is also a chaplain for the Port Authority. The photo showed Carlebach posing with a man who appeared to be U.S. House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican.

"Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed," Wildstein responded. He did not explain why he was upset with Carlebach.

The exchange occurred six days after Kelly told Wildstein in an e-mail that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Wildstein, who resigned from the Port Authority in December, originally submitted 900 pages of documents under subpoena to the legislative committee investigating the lane closures. His attorney, Alan Zegas, said material redacted in the documents was beyond the scope of the probe.

An attorney for the committee reviewed the material and reached an agreement with Zegas that some of it should be made public, said Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), cochair of the panel.

Wisniewski said the panel released the new material Thursday in part to dispel speculation that there was "something revelatory" in the unredacted material.

"I don't think there's any huge revelation," he said. "I think there's corroboration that they had a cavalier attitude about their responsibilities."

Zegas got attention this month when he said in a letter that "evidence exists" to contradict Christie's timeline of when he learned of the lane closures. Zegas did not say what the evidence was or who had it.

The exchange between Wildstein and Kelly shows them mocking Carlebach.

Carlebach did not return a message left Thursday at his synagogue in South Brunswick. He told the Bergen Record that he had "totally no idea" why he would be a topic of conversation, saying he did not know Wildstein and had little interaction with Kelly.

The unredacted material also reveals more conversation between Wildstein and Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority who also resigned in December.

Baroni told lawmakers in November that the lane closures were part of a traffic study to see whether three access lanes to the bridge were needed from Fort Lee.

In a newly revealed line, Wildstein texted Baroni after his testimony Nov. 25, saying, "O'Toole statement ready."

That day, Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R., Passaic) sent a statement to reporters deriding a "sweetheart deal" for Fort Lee, referring to the three lanes.

"Today's hearing is an example of the type of government waste that happens when out-of-touch Democrats try to score political points against an ever-popular governor," the statement read.

O'Toole did not respond to a message left at his legislative office Thursday.

O'Toole, who is a member of the committee probing the closures, "clearly possesses some level of knowledge of what happened here," Wisniewski told reporters Thursday.

The new materials also identify for the first time who sent certain text messages. Wildstein, it is now clear, sent Kelly a text during the lane closures that apparently referred to young people stuck in traffic as "the children of Buono voters" - referencing Christie's gubernatorial opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex).


mhanna@phillynews.com

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

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