A defiant New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pushed back Saturday against former ally David Wildstein and strongly disputed news reports about Wildstein's accusations in an e-mail distributed to his friends and supporters.
The message, distributed by aides in Christie's office, appears designed to more forcefully respond to accusations made Friday by Wildstein, a former Christie appointee who presided over the George Washington Bridge lane closures, which are at the center of a controversy that has raised questions about the governor's leadership style and his potential viability as 2016 GOP presidential candidate.
Wildstein said Friday through a letter from his attorney 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.”
The main purpose of the letter was to once again ask the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to pay for Wildstein’s legal fees during ongoing investigations into the lane closures.
The governor's office denied the accusations Friday in a brief written statement by reiterating that Christie had "absolutely no prior knowledge" of the lane closures before they occurred.
But on Saturday, Christie lashed out more strongly.
"Bottom line: David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein," the e-mail said.
The message recounted that newspaper reports have described Wildstein as "tumultuous" and someone who "made moves that were not productive." It notes that as a 16-year old, Wildstein sued over a local school board election and that he was accused by a high school teacher of "deceptive behavior."
The fact that the accusations reach back to Wildstein's purported behavior in high school is notable, given that Christie first met Wildstein when they attended high school together.
The contents of the e-mail were first reported by Politico and obtained by The Washington Post from Christie's office.
The Christie e-mail also suggests that the New York Times published "sloppy reporting" Friday when the accusations first surfaced and that the newspaper admitted that it needed to change the story several times online.
A New York Times editor later told reporters that the story was updated "dozens" of times.
The e-mail comes after many of Christie’s supporters quickly rallied to his defense Friday by suggesting that Wildstein's accusations were insignificant.
In a separate development Saturday, the special counsel for a New Jersey legislative panel investigating the allegations against Christie said the state's probe will not impede an ongoing federal investigation. The statement by Reid J. Schar, special counsel to the special legislative committee, said that he met Friday with federal investigators and "I am comfortable that the Committee's investigation may continue. As we proceed we will be mindful of the need to avoid taking steps that could inappropriately impede any investigation the U.S. Attorney's Office may be conducting."
Here is a copy of the e-mail, distributed to Christie allies and friends by Colin Reed, Christie's deputy communications director:
5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That's Not A Bombshell
1. New York Times Bombshell Not A Bombshell. A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually "evidence" when it was a letter alleging that "evidence exists." Forced to change the lead almost immediately, the Times was roundly criticized, and its editor was forced to issue this extraordinary statement to the Huffington Post:
- "We've made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more."
2. As he has said repeatedly, Governor Christie had no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein's scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
- GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: “So what I can tell you is if people find that hard to believe, I don't know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this -- of the planning, the execution or anything about it -- and that I first found out about it after it was over. And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. And there was no evidence to the contrary until yesterday that was brought to my attention or anybody else's attention.” (Press Conference, 1/9/14)
3. The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact. Even then he was under the belief it was a traffic study. He first learned David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly closed lanes for political purposes when it was reported on January 8th.
- GOVERNOR CHRISTIE: “And I knew nothing about this. And until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, but even then I was told this was a traffic study.” (Press Conference, 1/9/14)
4. In David Wildstein's past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as "tumultuous" and someone who "made moves that were not productive."
- As a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election.
- He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.
- He had a controversial tenure as Mayor of Livingston
- He was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge
- He had a strange habit of registering web addresses for other people's names without telling them
- Thomas L. Adams, Wildstein’s Council Running Mate: “It Was A Tumultuous Time.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie's Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
- Robert Leopold, Livingston’s former Democratic Mayor: Wildstein Was “A Political Animal” Who “Frightened People.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie's Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
- “He Was A Very Contentious Person.” (Shawn Boburg, “Ex-Blogger Is Governor Christie's Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority,” Bergen Record, 3/3/12)
· Wildstein Created “Culture Of Fear” Within Port Authority. “He and others referred to a ‘culture of fear’ within the authority, reflected in testimony from other authority officials about their reluctance to report to Mr. Foye or others what they considered an ‘odd’ request from Mr. Wildstein—to abruptly realign lanes that had been in place for decades and to tell no one about it.” (Ted Mann, “Port Authority Chief Testifies in George Washington Bridge Flap,” The Wall Street Journal, 12/9/13)
5. David Wildstein has been publicly asking for immunity since the beginning, been held in contempt by the New Jersey legislature for refusing to testify, failed to provide this so-called "evidence" when he was first subpoenaed by the NJ Legislature and is looking for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.
- Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich: "Look, from my perspective and Fort Lee's perspective, we have credibility issues with Mr. Wildstein…He is certainly bucking for immunity." (Susan K. Livio, “GWB letter raises credibility questions for Chris Christie, Port Authority official, politicians say,” Star-Ledger, 2/1/14)
- Assemblyman John Wisniewski: "‘I am curious (Wildstein) has documents … he did not provide them to the committee when he was subpoenaed,’ Wisniewski added.” (Susan K. Livio, “GWB letter raises credibility questions for Chris Christie, Port Authority official, politicians say,” Star-Ledger, 2/1/14)
Bottom line - David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.
Dan Balz contributed to this report.