On Friday afternoon, over 900 documents from the investigation into the Chris Christie administration’s George Washington Bridge scandal were released. The materials do not appear to contain any evidence directly linking the New Jersey governor to the decision to shut down the two of the bridge’s lanes as an act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey (or, possibly, another political rival). However, they do offer glimpses of the chaos caused by the apparently pointless four-day closures and administration’s attempts to contain the resulting controversy, as well as Christie administration officials’ tendency to use curse words when discussing press inquires.
First, the mysterious “traffic study” that Christie Port Authority appointee Bill Baroni (who has since stepped down) claimed was the reason for the shutdown does sort of exist, though it will be difficult for anyone to argue that it was anything more than a front: At four pages long, the study was supposedly aimed to find out “whether closing the lanes permanently might improve traffic flow.” Even though the answer to that question would appear to be self-evident, the document titled “EARLY assessment of the benefits of the trial” concluded with “to be determined.”
The file also contained an e-mail from Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye (one of the New York counterparts to New Jersey’s Port Authority officials), who complained to Christie’s appointees that he was not involved in the decision to close the George Washington Bridge lanes and warned that doing so was dangerous and possibly illegal:
“This hasty and ill-advised decision has resulted in delays to emergency vehicles. I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or hospice-bound patient delayed,” he wrote. He added: “I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both States.”
“To be clear,” Foye declared, “I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for; I intend to learn how PA process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged to say nothing of the credibility of this agency.”
A mere minutes later, [George Washington Bridge general manager Robert Durando] responded, “We have restored the 3 toll lanes to Ft. Lee.”
When Foye asked how he was supposed to explain the closure to the public, Baroni wrote, “I am on my way to office to discuss. There can be no public discourse.” Foye responded, “Bill that’s precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse on this.”
Another e-mail to Durando — this one from another Port Authority official, Lisa Herrera — illustrated commuters’ legitimate frustration with the closure:
“I just got another call from a patron,” said the email from Lisa Herrera, whom The Record has previously identified as a manager in the Port Authority’s bridges and tunnels department. “She says that the Port Authority ‘doesn’t care about their customers and they are playing God with people’s jobs.’ Her husband was 40 minutes late to a job that he just got after being out of work for over a year.”
In another e-mail, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman about the closed lanes, which he said caused some of his editors to get stuck in traffic on the bridge. Coleman forwarded the inquiry to Christie appointee David Wildstein (who also resigned over the scandal and is now refusing to testify about it) who forwarded it to Baroni with the note, “I call bullshit on this.” In another exchange that included Wildstein, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak referred to a New Jersey Star-Ledger journalist looking into the bridge issue as “a fucking mutt.” When another journalist from the Star-Ledger asked Drewniak for a comment on the matter, Drewniak forwarded a note about the inquiry to Wildstein with the comment, “Fuck him and the S-L.” (Wildstein then forwarded that to Baroni.) Other evidence of the cover-up was less profane:
On Oct. 9, Philippe Danielides, a senior adviser to Samson, e-mailed Wildstein a summary of that day’s news media stories and wrote, “Has any thought been given to writing an op-ed or providing a statement about the GWB study? Or is the plan just to hunker down and grit our way through it?”
Wildstein’s three-word reply: “Yes and yes.” He later forwarded the exchange to Baroni.
There was also an e-mail Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich sent to Baroni about his surprise upon learning of the lane closure and subsequent traffic disaster in his town. Sokolich wrote that he was “incessantly” attempting to contact Port Authority officials “to no avail,” and complained that, “[M]any members of the public have indicated to me that the Port Authority Police Officers are advising commuters in response to their complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision that I, as the Mayor, recently made.” Sokolich added that he was “writing this correspondence to you and am refraining from copying any other party in the hopes that a recent decision by the Port Authority will be reversed quietly, uneventfully and without political fanfare.” So much for that.