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Answering the ‘What Chris Christie knew — and when he knew it’ question

The New York Times reported Friday afternoon that former Port Authority official David Wildstein has alleged that "evidence exists" that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the lane closures in Fort Lee as they were happening, an allegation that, if true, would directly contradict the governor's timeline of events relating to the Bridge-gate scandal.

In this Jan. 16, 2014, photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering of home owners in Manahawkin, N.J., who were affected by last year's Superstorm Sandy. Christie faces a big test this weekend following the eruption of a political scandal in his home state. He needs to reassure top financial donors that he’s addressing allegations of political payback in New Jersey and remains a viable presidential contender. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

But, the what-Christie-knew-when question is extremely complicated. At the heart of the Wildstein allegation is that Christie knew that the lanes were closed during the closures themselves, a timeline Christie has repeatedly rejected. Those allegations are entirely separate from whether Christie knew of the motivations behind the closures.

Here's our attempt to sort it out.

At a press conference in December announcing that Port Authority official Bill Baroni was moving on from his position, Christie said that the first he had "ever heard about the issue" was in the immediate aftermath of the leaking of an email from Port Authority executive director Pat Foye in which Foye demanded the lanes be re-opened. That email leak was published in a story by the Wall Street Journal that ran on Oct. 1. "I think that was the first I heard of it," Christie said at that December press conference. "But it was certainly well after the whole thing was over before I heard about it." (The lane closures were ordered on Sept. 9 and ended on Sept. 13.)

Now, fast forward to the Jan. 9 press conference that Christie held following the revelations that senior officials in his Administration had orchestrated the lane closures as a bit of political payback.  Here are the relevant exchanges (I've added some bold to highlight certain passages. Here's the full transcript.)

* QUESTION: But you can tell us that you do not authorize this kind of retribution.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Oh, absolutely not. No. 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.

* CHRISTIE: "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."

* CHRISTIE: "And we were told that they did a traffic study where they did not want a normal flow of traffic to be interrupted so that the traffic study would be a valid one. That's what we were told. And so we did respond. We asked them, and that's how we responded. You know, and again, I'm not somebody who's going to be, you know, getting into the details of a traffic study and whether one is done appropriately or inappropriately, certainly at that time."

Taken all together, what Christie seemed to be saying in press conferences in December and January is that he did not know of the lane closures as they were happening but found out soon afterwards. (When that exactly happened is a place where Christie seems to have contradicted himself somewhat. While in the December press conference he said he found out after the Journal published its story on Oct. 1, in the January press conference Christie said "it wasn't one of Pat Foye's emails, but I think there was an earlier story than that.")

Here's what Christie said in a statement released Friday night:

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.

This may come down to what "it" Christie is referring to in this sentence from the January press conference: "I first found out about it after it was over." Is "it" the fact that lanes were close? Or that some controversy had arisen over the lane closure?  If it comes out that "it" were the lane closures themselves and Wildstein (or someone else) is able to produce evidence that Christie did in fact know, then his timeline has a problem. But if "it" relates to the controversy over the closures, it seems Christie's story holds up.

Read the letter from Wildstein's attorney below:

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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