On Thursday, the New Jersey Legislature released a new batch of documents subpoenaed as part of the ongoing investigation into whether the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played a role in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September. There are several new details that shed light on the scandal including Christie allies making politically incorrect jokes about causing “traffic problems” for a local rabbi and a mysterious figure in the Jersey State House called the “general.”
These documents are unredacted versions of records that were subpoenaed from close Christie ally David Wildstein by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee as part of its initial investigation into the closures, which caused days of gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J. Last month, the Legislature voted to establish a special committee solely dedicated to investigating the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal surrounding the closures. Some Democrats have alleged the lanes were shut to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid last year.
Wildstein, who grew up with Christie, was appointed by the governor to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which oversees the bridge. He resigned in December amid questions about the Fort Lee traffic jam. Christie has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the closures. During a radio appearance Wednesday, Christie dismissed speculation about the scandal as “hysteria.”
Here are the five juiciest details from the new document dump:
1) Traffic Problems In Tel Aviv
The new documents include a text message exchange from Aug. 19 in which Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, Bridget Anne Kelly, joked with Wildstein about causing “traffic problems” to take revenge against a rabbi who crossed him.
Wildstein kicked off the exchange by sending Kelly a photo of an unnamed man who he later identified as being “Jewish.” According to the local Bergen Record newspaper, that man is a rabbi named Mendy Carlebach.
“He has officially pissed me off,” Wildstein wrote.
“We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?” Kelly replied.
“Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed,” said Wildstein.
An earlier round of subpoenaed communications infamously showed Kelly telling Wildstein it was, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” in an email exchange on Aug. 13, 2013, a few weeks before the lanes were closed.
2) Christie Allies Scheduled Meetings To ‘Stave Off Reporters’
The new documents also include text messages between Wildstein and Bill Baroni, another top Christie Port Authority appointee who resigned in December. One of these conversations occurred last Sept. 17, days after a traffic columnist published an article in the Record describing the traffic jam that featured Sokolich speculating he was targeted by the closures.
Baroni forwarded Wildstein messages he received from Sokolich asking whether the traffic was “punishment.” Wildstein responded that he had not yet “heard back” from Kelly.
“Fck (sic),” Baroni wrote.
Wildstein then said Kelly told him she would be in touch shortly. Baroni suggested they make time to discuss a media strategy.
“We could sched (sic) a meeting to stave off reporters,” he said.
3) Who is the ‘General?’
So far, documents subpoenaed by the Legislature have shown several figures close to Christie were involved in discussions about the lane closures and subsequent fallout including; Baroni, Wildstein, Kelly, former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien, and top administration spokesman Michael Drewniak. However, the new documents show other Christie aides discussed how to handle questions from the press and politicians about the closures. There was also an indication an unnamed figure Wildstein referred to as “general” was in on the conversation.
On Oct. 2, 2013, Baroni sent a text to Wildstein describing communication he had with Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications, Maria Comella.
“Comella didn’t think much of the story. Said Nobody paying attention,” Baroni wrote.
“Bridget same,” replied Wildstein, in an apparent reference to Kelly.
Wildstein followed up with a question.
“What did general want?”
The remainder of this exchange was redacted.
4) ‘O’Toole Statement Ready’
Other subpoenaed documents have already shown indications state Senator Kevin O’Toole, the lone Republican on the Legislature’s special committee investigating the closures, was possibly communicating with Baroni and Wildstein as they gave testimony during the initial transportation committee investigation in November. Because of this, some observers have suggested O’Toole should be taken off the committee. Democrats with knowledge of the investigation who have spoken with Business Insider have also raised questions about whether a statement O’Toole issued last Nov. 25, the day Baroni testified, indicated coordination since it contained many of the same figures Baroni cited in his testimony. In that statement, O’Toole blasted the Legislature’s investigation into the closures as “discriminatory.”
The newly unredacted documents include an exchange from Nov. 25 where Baroni asks Wildstein for feedback on the testimony. In what seems to be an indication they were indeed in the loop with O’Toole, Wildstein also updated Baroni on the status of O’Toole’s statement.
“O’Toole statement ready,” he wrote.
5) Job Security
On November 12 of last year, Baroni sent Wildstein a text that was perhaps indicative of the mounting pressure Christie’s allies faced amid growing questions about the closures.
“Are we being fired?” he wrote.
Later portions of that conversation were redacted.
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