Lawyer: Evidence contradicts Christie on closures
TRENTON, New Jersey (AP) — A scandal that has rocked the administration of Republican presidential prospect Chris Christie appeared to deepen Friday, when a former loyalist of the New Jersey governor said Christie made inaccurate statements during a news conference about a huge traffic jam at the foot of one of the world’s busiest bridges.
Christie’s office insisted the governor told the truth.
Allegations that Christie’s aides closed lanes near the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey to Manhattan as political revenge against a local mayor have complicated Christie’s prospects of a presidential run. Christie had said he knew nothing about the political motive behind the lane closures until much later.
The lawyer for David Wildstein, a longtime friend of Christie who was the No. 2 official at the agency that runs the bridge, said in a letter Friday that his client “contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.” However, he did not say which of the governor’s many statements were inaccurate.
Attorney Alan Zegas also said there is evidence that suggests the governor knew about the closures as they happened in September. Christie, who has been urged by Republicans to run for president in 2016, said in a news conference three weeks ago that he knew about the lane closures, but initially thought they were part of a traffic study.
But in December, the governor said he didn’t know about the traffic problems until “well after the whole thing was over.”
Christie’s office denied the letter’s claims in a statement, saying they don’t contradict what the governor said. Asked specifically about the Dec. 13 remarks, Christie’s office reiterated its statement.
“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,” Christie’s office said.
Christie cruised to re-election in the predominantly Democratic state in November. The lane closures and the gigantic traffic-jams that ensued apparently were retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee, the town that sits on the New Jersey side of the bridge, for not endorsing Christie. The governor fired his deputy chief of staff after emails between her and Wildstein appeared to show she orchestrated the lane closures as payback against the mayor.
When asked during the news conference if he understood why people would have a hard time believing “you didn’t know about this thing,” he responded:
“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,” he said.
On Friday night, Christie appeared at a birthday party for radio personality Howard Stern, but did not take questions after introducing a performance by Jon Bon Jovi.
New Jersey legislators are investigating whether Christie aides engineered the lane closures in the community of Fort Lee to send a message to the town’s Democratic mayor. The U.S. Attorney’s office is also investigating. Twenty subpoenas for documents and correspondence related to the lane closings are due to be returned to the legislative panel on Monday.
No subpoenas target Christie himself, who has just begun a yearlong chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.
Wildstein has since resigned from his job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Zegas’ office did not immediately return messages seeking comment.