Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is under fire today after emails show that his top aide and other staffers orchestrated a bridge closure that brought traffic gridlock to Fort Lee, New Jersey. Why did Christie’s camp do this? Well, because the mayor of town didn’t endorse him in his bid for re-election:
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee’s mayor — who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election — and they chronicle how he tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000, which sits in the shadow of the world’s busiest bridge.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor’s top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough’s access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta—a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, one of three deputies on Christie’s senior staff, wrote to David Wildstein, a top Christie executive at the Port Authority, on Aug. 13, about three weeks before the closures. Wildstein, the official who ordered the closures and who resigned last month amid the escalating scandal, wrote back: “Got it.”
In light of what we learned last year about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) using its power to target conservative and Tea Party organizations, this kind of thing is incredibly concerning, even more so since Christie has presidential ambitions.
It’s not like Christie was in the midst of a close race. Real Clear Politics had him up 24 points over State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) just before the election (he won by 22 points). He’d received high-profile support from people who ordinarily don’t back Republicans, including former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal.
Why would the backing of the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey — a town with 35,000 residents — make any real difference? Simply put, it wouldn’t have. Unfortunately, this is an example of power-drunk hacks who were using their influence just because they could. What’s more, they thought it was funny:
In one exchange of text messages on the second day of the lane closures, Wildstein alludes to messages the Fort Lee mayor had left complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through the traffic.
“Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” the recipient of the text message responded to Wildstein. The person’s identity is not clear because the documents are partially redacted for unknown reasons.
“No,” Wildstein wrote in response.
“I feel badly about the kids,” the person replied to Wildstein. “I guess.”
“They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote, making a reference to Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, who lost to Christie in a landslide in November.
There have already been resignations because of this. There will likely be more. Whether Christie comes out clean on this and whether it will affect his likely 2016 presidential bid remains to be seen. He has insisted that it was just a matter of poor judgment, but these emails contradict that, obviously, in a big way.
There may be plausible deniability, meaning that he was never in the loop about the real reason why the bridge was shutdown. But this is the sort of Washington-style politics that Christie has slammed in the past. Now that his administration has been exposed like this, his brash, in-your-face demeanor suddenly looks like it was for more than just show.