After it emerged that former Port Authority official David Wildstein oversaw the George Washington Bridge lane closures, Chris Christie explained that he barely knew his appointee and high-school classmate (though they were photographed together during the debacle). Now MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki reports that another person Christie grew up with was on the bridge the day the epic traffic jam started. Lieutenant Thomas “Chip” Michaels, a Port Authority police officer whose family has been friends with Christie’s for decades, gave Wildstein a tour of the traffic snarl and texted him about its impact on Fort Lee.
Robert Durando, the general manager of the George Washington Bridge, testified in December that Wildstein visited his facility on Sept. 9, then “left the communications desk with a police lieutenant assigned to the George Washington Bridge, to ride around the facility for some period of time to see the impact on traffic.” Documents Wildstein submitted to a New Jersey legislative committee show Michaels was that officer. Wildstein emailed Durando, “Going to take a ride with chip and see how it looks.” Though his name was redacted, that suggests Michaels was the person Wildstein was simultaneously texting about where to pick him up.
“Want me to pik u up? Its fkd up here,” Michaels, whose phone does not appear to have autocorrect, texts Wildstein, adding, “I may hav idea to mak ths beter,” and, “Local ft lee trafic disaster.” Also, the night before the lanes were closed, Michaels emailed his superior to ask if a “new traffic pattern” was going into effect.
There’s nothing obviously incriminating in Michaels’s texts and emails (it’s unclear how he wanted to “mak ths beter,”) but they reveal that another person close to Christie had first-hand knowledge of the lane closures long before the governor says he found out about the incident. A 2010 Newark Star-Ledger article described Michaels as part of “a tight circle of friends” Christie formed while growing up in Livingston. “We break his chops a little bit, just saying, ‘You’re the governor?,’ looking at him laughing,” Michaels told the paper. “It’s crazy. He grew up like everyone else in New Jersey. So to see him as a celebrity, it’s just really odd. But he’s the same guy. He’s a grounded guy.”
His brother, Jeffrey Michaels, has even closer ties to Christie. Jeffrey Michaels was a campaign adviser when Christie ran for governor in 2009, and was reportedly the person who told him he’d won. He went on to form a lobbying venture that flourished under the Christie administration, and has contributed large sums to various Christie-affiliated groups.
In a public television interview, Jeffrey Michaels said of the governor, “We went to high school with – we – our families knew each other from Livingston, and just stayed in close contact with him over the years and was very pleased to help his campaign out with policy.” Presumably, Christie has also stayed in touch with Chip Michaels, who was the head coach of his son Patrick’s little league hockey team in 2010. Looks like Christie is going to have to go with “betrayed by those closest to me” rather than “we’re not even friends” on this one.