An appointee of Gov. Chris Christie personally showed up to observe the closure of lanes at the George Washington Bridge that triggered an epic traffic jam in New Jersey in September, according to documents made public Friday.
The appointee, David Wildstein, emailed the general manager of the bridge on the day before the lanes were closed to say, “Will be at bridge early Monday am to view new lane test,” the documents show. Other emails show that he arrived by 7 a.m. on Sept. 9, the first of four days of nightmare traffic in the city of Fort Lee.
The documents also show that Wildstein and Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, were directly told on the first day that the backups were causing problems for police and paramedics. Lane closures at the bridge continued for four days, until the irate head of the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, ordered them reopened.
The matter exploded this week into the biggest scandal of Christie’s career after emails and texts appeared to show that Christie allies ordered the lanes closed as an act of political payback.
The documents were released by a committee of lawmakers looking into why the lanes were closed. Some of the information has been reported in news accounts, but the documents — more than 2,000 pages in all — paint a picture of Christie allies pushing forward with the closings and later trying to keep information from the public.
The documents show Port Authority officials discussing a "test" designed by Wildstein in August, two weeks after he received an email from Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, that said: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
An email from the weekend before the traffic jam quotes the manager of the bridge as saying that he was "instructed by Wildstein to change the traffic pattern."
On Sept. 12, the fourth day of the jam, the Port Authority appears to have put together a PowerPoint presentation labeled "EARLY assessment of the benefits of the trial." The conclusion is given as "TBD."
Wildstein was an executive at the Port Authority, and Baroni was its deputy executive director. Both resigned their jobs in December as questions about the lane closures grew.
Wildstein was hauled before state lawmakers on Thursday to answer questions but invoked the Fifth Amendment. His lawyer indicated he might be willing to talk if he were offered immunity from prosecution. The governor took pains on Thursday to distance himself from Wildstein, a high school classmate.
The documents show complaints coming in from the public after the lanes were closed, including one woman who called to say that the Port Authority “doesn’t care about their customers and they are playing God with people’s jobs.”
The documents show that a Port Authority employee, Tina Lado, emailed Baroni and Wildstein on Sept. 9 to tell them that police and medics had had trouble searching for a missing child and responding to a cardiac arrest.
It was four days later when Patrick Foye, executive director of the bridge-controlling Port Authority and an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, sent a blistering note on Sept. 13 ordering all its lanes reopened. Foye wrote that he worried the law was being broken.
When he ordered the lanes reopened and suggested the agency get the word out, Baroni wrote back: "There can be no public discourse." He forwarded the email to Wildstein without comment.
Baroni also forwarded the Foye note to David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority, who was nominated for the job by Christie. Baroni added: "General, can I call you on this now?"
The governor on Thursday fired Kelly and cut ties with Bill Stepien, who ran both his campaigns, who were mentioned in earlier texts and emails about the traffic fiasco.
Christie apologized to the people of New Jersey — and to the Fort Lee mayor in person — and said he felt betrayed, humiliated, angry and sad. But he insisted that he knew nothing about any scheme to close the lanes as an act of political payback.
A U.S. Senate committee and the Port Authority have pledged investigations, and the Justice Department has opened an inquiry into the fiasco.
Christie is widely believed to be considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and has cultivated an image of himself as a no-nonsense problem-solver unconcerned with partisan bickering.