Christie staff sought to stop unfolding traffic-jam scandal going public

Fresh documents show efforts to control publicity as lane-closure scandal unfolded

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 6:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

Documents show officials scrambled to control the publicity damage after lane closures sparked a traffic scandal that now threatens the rise of Republican star and potential 2016 US presidential candidate Chris Christie.

Christie, the larger-than-life governor of the state of New Jersey, has repeatedly apologised, and fired a top aide, after documents revealed that officials in his administration may have intentionally caused traffic jams at the foot of one of the world's busiest bridges, the George Washington Bridge to Manhattan, in an act of political revenge.

Christie faces a potential class-action lawsuit arising from the monster traffic jams his aides are accused of creating under the pretext of road tests, although experts question the strength of the case.

A personal injury lawyer from Fort Lee, New Jersey, filed the case in a US federal court on behalf of six local residents who missed work or suffered other alleged damages due to the jams in September. Many more people could join the plaintiffs if the court allows the case to become a class action.

Until Wednesday Christie had said his staff had nothing to do with the lane closures and he still says he had no personal knowledge of them. He fired Bridget Anne Kelly, an aide who helped orchestrate the shutdowns.

The newly released e-mails do not appear to implicate Christie directly - and still do not definitively answer why the plot to strangle traffic in Fort Lee was hatched. But the records shed additional light on how the lane closures were carried out. They follow the release on Wednesday of e-mails suggesting that the traffic jams may have been an act of political revenge against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich.

The documents indicate short tempers as cars piled up.

"I had an unpleasant interaction with Fort Lee Police Chief and Asst Chief about congesting the Borough, and preventing the smooth flow of emergency response vehicles throughout the Borough," Robert Durando, the bridge's general manager, said in a September 9 e-mail. "Their characterisation was that the 'test' was a monumental failure.

"Fort Lee is not happy."

In the e-mail that ordered the lanes reopened four days later, the executive director of the bridge's operator, Patrick Foye, called the decision to close the lanes "abusive" and added: "I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law."

Bill Baroni, the Christie-appointed deputy director who has since resigned, forwarded a copy of the e-mail to Christie's secretary. Later that morning, Baroni e-mailed Foye: "I am on my way to office to discuss. There can be no public discourse."

Foye responded: "Bill that's precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse."

Christie travelled to Fort Lee on Thursday to personally apologise to the mayor and residents. But the issue is not over. US Attorney Paul Fishman is reviewing the case, and the general inspector of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, is investigating.

The Washington Post, Reuters, Associated Press