New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went on the offensive today against a former ally whose lawyer accused him of lying about when he learned of September lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, sending a sharply worded e-mail to friends and supporters.
“Bottom line -- David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” Christie said in the e-mail, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.
Alan Zegas, the lawyer for former Port Authority official David Wildstein, said in a letter yesterday the governor knew about the lane closures as they were occurring. Christie, 51, said Jan. 9 that he had known nothing about the closings that paralyzed traffic onto the bridge connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, with Manhattan for four days until he read about them in media accounts.
Christie, a 51-year-old Republican who won a second term in November by 22 percentage points, is a prospective contender for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination. The furor over the closures since it was revealed in early January that they apparently were politically motivated has dominated state political circles and cut into what had been Christie’s high approval ratings in polls.
In today’s e-mail, Christie took issue with the initial reports in the New York Times about Zegas’s letter, which he said weren’t accurate and later changed. He also questioned the credibility of Wildstein, a high school acquaintance.
“In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as ‘tumultuous’ and someone who ‘made moves that were not productive,’ ” the e-mail said.
Detailing aspects of Wildstein’s behavior, the e-mail said that “as a 16-year-old kid, he sued over a local school board election,” and that “he was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
It also said “he was an anonymous blogger known as Wally Edge.”
Wildstein, in his job as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, ordered the lane closures that snarled traffic, according to a cache of e-mails released by state lawmakers on Jan. 8 He resigned from the post in December.
Christie’s e-mail pointed to statements made by Zegas that Wildstein would be willing to talk about the closures if granted immunity from prosecution. Wildstein invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during an appearance before lawmakers in January and refused to answer any questions.
The story on Zegas’s letter wasn’t a “bombshell” and Christie wasn’t involved in the lane closures, the e-mail said.
“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,” it said.
Given Christie’s responses to Wildstein’s claims, the governor has “no choice at this point but to push ahead full steam with this,” said Matt Hale, professor of political science at Seton Hall University in South Orange. “He’s already dug into the narrative that he didn’t know and now he’s got no choice but to stick with it.”
A joint state legislative panel and federal prosecutors are investigating the closures. Lawmakers have issued 20 subpoenas seeking texts, emails and documents in the matter by Feb. 3. Along with 18 individuals, the governor’s office and his re-election campaign have been ordered to turn over papers.
Kevin Marino, a lawyer for Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, notified the legislative committee yesterday that his client won’t comply with the subpoena and will invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office has also issued subpoenas to the Republican State Committee and the campaign in a parallel probe of the case.
News of Christie’s e-mail was first reported by Politico. The Democratic National Committee quickly responded with its own e-mail highlighting its prediction yesterday that Christie would seek to discredit Wildstein.
“We’ve seen plenty of bluster and attacks from team Christie in recent weeks, but what we haven’t seen are any explanations as to why the Christie administration shut down the lanes,” the group said.
E-mails that surfaced in early January indicated that a Christie aide, writing to Wildstein, pushed for some sort of traffic problem in Fort Lee because that city’s mayor hadn’t joined other leading state Democrats in endorsing the governor’s re-election.
Christie fired the aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, immediately after the e-mails were disclosed.