Updated, 6:10 p.m.
A former political ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) charged Friday that Christie gave an incorrect account of what he knew about the infamous traffic backup on the George Washington Bridge — and the ally said he knows of evidence that would prove it.
The Christie administration denied the accusations, again saying that the governor had "absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened."
According to a letter first published by the New York Times, ex-Port Authority official David Wildstein — who was one of the fall guys in the scandal that has led to numerous subpoenas and investigations — asserts that “evidence exists ... tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference."
An excerpt from Gov. Christie's news conference on Jan. 14.
The letter, written to the Port Authority general counsel by Wildstein's lawyer, Alan Zegas, disputes the agency's decision not to pay Wildstein's legal fees during the state and federal investigations into the scandal. In an article published in the Wall Street Journal Thursday, Zegas is called "a prominent New Jersey criminal defender who sparred with Mr. Christie's office during the governor's tenure as a federal prosecutor, and who legal experts say is known for a willingness to cut deals that turn his clients to cooperating witnesses."
In a statement released late Friday, the Christie administration said:
“Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along - he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein's motivations were for closing them to begin with. As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions.”
Suspicions about Christie's involvement with the lane closures began when the Wall Street Journal and the Bergen Record released e-mails between Christie's recently fired deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and Wildstein, one from Kelly which said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
In a news conference Jan. 9, Christie denied knowledge of his staffers' involvement in the lane closures, adding, "I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team." At a previous news conference in December, Christie said, "The first I ever heard of the issue was when it was reported in the press." Bergen Record reporter John Reitmeyer reiterated Christie's adamant denials today:
I asked Christie during a Dec. news conference specifically if he knew about the closures as they were occurring. "Never. No," he replied.
— John Reitmeyer (@johnreitmeyer) January 31, 2014
Christie also challenged claims that he was friends with Wildstein at the January news conference, saying: "It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school."
An article in the Bergen Record from March 2012 states that "several executives said Wildstein has played a role in placing some of those recommended by the Christie administration in jobs and that he seems to serve as the administration’s eyes and ears within the byzantine agency." On the third day of traffic problems in Fort Lee, Christie was seen talking at a World Trade Center anniversary event with Wildstein.
In a poll released by USA Today and the Pew Research Center last week, 58 percent of Americans aware of the bridge scandal say they do not believe Christie's denials.