A controversy surrounding lane closures on the George Washington Bridge is looking worse for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R).
Emails and text messages obtained by The Record (N.J.) newspaper on Wednesday show a senior Christie aide was deeply involved in an apparent effort to exact revenge on the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. by causing gridlock in his town last September. The mayor, Mark Sokolich (D), did not endorse Christie’s reelection campaign.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, emailed to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a friend of the governor.
"Got it," Wildstein replied.
The email exchange occurred on Aug. 13, just over three weeks before the lanes were closed. Wildstein resigned in December amid the growing controversy.
A Christie spokesman would not comment to The Record. The governor's office postponed Christie's only scheduled public appearance on Wednesday.
The lane closure incident has become a growing headache for Christie, who is considered a potential top Republican candidate in 2016. Christie’s office has long claimed that it had nothing to do with the lane closures, and that they were part of a traffic study.
Asked whether the closures were politically motivated, Christie said "the answer is absolutely, unequivocally not."
But the messages indicate otherwise.
A text message on Sept. 10 indicated that Sokolich had complained to officials about the traffic jams, saying they delayed school buses. The George Washington Bridge carries 102 million vehicles per year between New York City and New Jersey, making it the busiest bridge in the world, according to the Port Authority.
“Is it wrong that i am smiling?” the recipient of the message, whose name was redacted, wrote.
“No,” Wildstein answered, adding.
“I feel badly about the kids,” the recipient replied, “I guess.”
Wildstein wrote back, “they are children of Buono voters,” referencing Christie’s Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono.
After news stories began to question the lane closures, Wildstein emailed Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien on Sept. 18, telling him he "had empty boxes ready to take to work today, just in case."
"It will be a tough November for this little Serbian," Wildstein wrote in reference to Sokolich, who is of Croatian descent.
Read the rest of the messages here, via The Record.
Updated, 4:34 pm
Christie broke his silence on Wednesday afternoon, saying he had no knowledge of a senior aide's role in the lane closures. He claimed he was misled by a member of his staff.
“What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable," he said in a statement. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge. One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
Updated, 6:01 pm
The apparent attempt by Christie aides to exact political revenge on a rival wasn't just fun and games. The Record reported Wednesday night that emergency responders were delayed in four separate medical situations, including one involving a 91-year-old woman who later died.
Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.