The former Port Authority staffer that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie denied being friends with in high school now says there's proof Christie knew about the Fort Lee lane closures as they happened. Which again proves the political axiom: If you have nothing nice to say about a guy who might be able to prove that you were involved in a potentially-lawbreaking act of political retribution, don't say anything at all.
David Wildstein was a senior official at the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge and was the recipient of the now-famous email from a Christie staffer saying it was "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Those traffic problems involved closing access lanes to the bridge between Fort Lee, New Jersey, and Manhattan, which backed up traffic into the New Jersey town, apparently in some sort of act of political punishment. Christie hadn't been directly linked to the email or the closures, until today.
As pointed out by the Huffington Post's Kim Bhasin, this is what Christie said earlier this month: "I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue — in its planning or its execution — and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here."
The New York Times reports on Wildstein's new allegations:
In a letter released by his lawyer … [Wildstein] described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.
You can read Wildstein's lawyer's letter below. "Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him," the letter reads, "and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
In that two-hour press conference, Christie denied not only knowing about the closures, but even denied knowing Wildstein very well, despite their having gone to high school together. He didn't actually use the word "nerd," but made the argument, in short, that while he was on the baseball team and acting as class president, he doesn't know what that dork Wildstein was doing. (Specifically: "We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time.") The New Republic quickly disputed that, citing the coach of the baseball team.
Christie also said he hadn't regularly interacted with Wildstein, though The Wall Street Journal found photos of the two of them together during the actual period that the lanes were closed. When called before an Assembly committee to testify on the subject, Wildstein plead the Fifth.
Pundits were quick to offer their unique takes on the news ("if true"):
- Ryan Lizza: "Christie=toast, if this is true."
- Sam Stein: "game. set."
- John Podhoretz: "If true, he's over."
- Josh Harkinson: "If this is right, then Chris Christie's political career is over"
- T. Becket Adams: "Oh, man, Christie. If this is true, he's a dead man"
- Alex Altman: "If true, this would be the end of Chris Christie"
- Dan Amira: "R.I.P. Chris Christie"
- Anthony De Rosa: "Christie, fade to black"
- Justin Green: "Big, if true"
- Henry Blodget: "If true, good bye"
Wildstein letter is NOT a "smoking gun." (That wld be the actual evidence it promises). But it carries the strongest whiff of gunpowder yet.— John Heilemann (@jheil) January 31, 2014
Update, 4:00 p.m.: Christie's 2013 campaign manager, Bill Stepien, will plead the Fifth instead of answering questions about his role in the closures. Christie removed Stepien from his position with the Republican Governor's Association earlier this month.
Update, 4:45 p.m.: Reflecting the distinction in the letter between what Wildstein can prove (the personal comments) and those things for which his lawyer states "evidence exists," the Huffington Post's Michael Calderone notes that The Times has updated its article to downplay his ability to prove Christie's knowledge. We've updated our headline to reflect the distinction as well.
Wildstein claims there is documentary proof that the governor has been lying.
If this proves to be true, then the governor must resign or be impeached. Because it will show that everything he said at his famous two-hour press conference was a lie.
Update, 5:50 p.m.: Christie's office responds, via Time's Zeke Miller.
BREAKING: Christie office response pic.twitter.com/5XvuaQiVF3— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 31, 2014
In summary: Christie "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."