Newly disclosed communications between a top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and Christie appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey suggest Christie's office used the Port Authority for political retribution against a mayor -- something Christie's office has flatly denied.
Democrats have accused Christie and his Port Authority appointees of closing access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., to the heavily trafficked George Washington Bridge for several days in September as retribution for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich not endorsing Christie's 2013 reelection campaign. The closures created severe traffic problems.
Christie has said he didn't believe his office wasn't involved in the closures. But text messages and e-mails show Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, sent an e-mail to top Port Authority official David Wildstein that said: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Wildstein responded to Kelly's e-mail: "Got it."
The Christie administration has said the lane closures were part of a study to see whether bridge traffic flowed better with the access lanes closed. It has said the study was conducted solely by the Port Authority. Christie himself has said the situation is "not that big a deal."
The e-mails were first reported by the Bergen Record. The George Washington Bridge is the most heavily trafficked bridge in the world.
Kelly's e-mail, from her personal account to Wildstein's personal account, is dated Aug. 13. The lane closures started Sept. 9.
In the intervening period, Kelly and Wildstein continued to exchange e-mails about Fort Lee. On Sept. 6, Wildstein told Kelly that they were "ready to do this" and that the governor's office should inform another mayor that it had approved $60,000 for a traffic study.
The communications do not say precisely that Fort Lee was targeted because of Sokolich's failure to endorse Christie or for any other reason.
The communications were turned over by Wildstein in response to a subpoena from state legislators. Wildstein and fellow top Port Authority official Bill Baroni have both left their jobs since questions arose about the lane closures.
Wildstein appears to recognize the dicey nature of his move. After the lane closures concluded, he shared a newspaper article questioning the reason for the closures and later wrote: “I had empty boxes to take to work today, just in case."
In response to the documents, Christie said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that he had no knowledge of what his top aide was doing. He promised there would be punishment.
"What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” he said. “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.”
Christie said the people of New Jersey “deserve better.”
“This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions,” he said.
Christie previously said that the lane closures were "not that big a deal." He said in mid-December that "mistakes were made" but suggested it had more to do with a failure to inform local officials about the closures.
"Mistakes were made in the way this stuff was communicated by Sen. Baroni’s own testimony, and they've taken responsibility publicly, both of them, for the mistakes that were made," Christie said at the time. "As far as I’m concerned, that’s it."
Christie has also said that he never met with Sokolich and wasn't aware of his campaign seeking the mayor's endorsement. Christie was endorsed by many Democratic mayors in his reelection bid, which he won triumphantly with about 60 percent of the vote.
Philip Rucker contributed to this report. Updated at 4:47 p.m.