(NEW YORK) — Thousands of pages of documents released Friday show officials loyal to Gov. Chris Christie went out of their way to try and show they were conducting a traffic study, including a power point presentation with maps of traffic in the Ft. Lee area, yet, it’s clear from the emails it was due to political retribution.
Officials even put together a power point presentation titling it an “early assessment” of “Reallocation of Toll Lanes at the GWB.”
There was no evidence in the documents linking Christie directly to the lane closures, but sources with the New Jersey state assembly Democrats who provided the documents, which they got from subpoenas issued to David Wildstein, Bill Baroni, and others, tell ABC News their next push will be to get information that is heavily redacted from these documents.
Also, it’s likely that Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien will be called to testify as well as others named in these documents.
The documents reveal Wildstein was intimately involved in the planning and execution of the lane closures, to the point that he was present the first day to observe.
The Port Authority was told by the borough of Fort Lee on the first day that this was a life threatening situation, citing the 91 year old woman who died, and the four year old missing girl, who was later found. That email was sent to Wildstein and Baroni.
“Wanted you both have a heads-up — Peggy Thomas, Borough Administrator, called me regarding the increased volume and congestion,” wrote Port Authority employee Tino Lado.
“She mentioned there were two incidents that the Ft. Lee police department and EMS had difficulty responding to: a missing child (later found) and a cardiac arrest … If there is anything you need me to do, let me know.”
The documents do reveal the internal rift between Christie’s appointees at the Port Authority and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees.
There was no apparent action until Sept. 13, when Cuomo appointee Patrick Foye steps in and orders the lanes open. And in a Sept. 13 email, Baroni said to Foye: “Pat we need to discuss prior to any communications.”
Foye emailed back: “Bill we are going to fix this fiasco….I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for; I intend to learn how Port Authority process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged to say nothing of the credibility of this agency.”
This scathing email from Foye has been reported previous to today, but still worth noting because of how angry he was.
On Oct. 9, a Port Authority staff member, Philippe Danielides, emailed Mr. Wildstein with clips of recent media stories all questioning whether the lane closings were part of a political vendetta.
“Has any thought been given to writing an op-ed or providing a statement about the GWB study? Or is the plan just to hunker down and grit our way through it?” Danielides writes Wildstein.
Wildstein’s response: “Yes and yes.”
They also reveal that last month, as the scandal was getting worse and appointees were only days from being fired, Christie’s press secretary was part of an email discussion in which Wildstein suggested using a 2010 letter from the Fort Lee mayor against him. Three years earlier, Sokolich complained about traffic and threatened to shut down roads that the Fort Lee police controlled in an effort to gain cooperation from bridge managers. The Christie aide, Michael Drewniak, and Wildstein kicked around the idea of putting out Sokolich’s earlier letter, arguing that it showed the mayor had made illegal threats to tie up traffic and possibly cause public safety problems in his own town — precisely what Christie is accused of.
The documents also show hundreds of reporter inquiries about the developing scandal. On Sept. 13, Baroni instructs a media aide how to address the press inquiries writing:
“The Port Authority has conducted a week study at the GWB of traffic safety patterns. We will now review those results and determine the best traffic patterns at the GWB. We will continue to work with local law enforcement partners.”
But, as the media requests and stories increased a media aide at the Port Authority tells Wildstein, Baroni and others, “I will not respond unless directed otherwise to do so.”
They also show that just days before the lane closures an email exchange between two Port Authority staffers questioned why top executives at the agency would request something as mechanical as traffic study.
“This is a 24×7 toll plaza change that the 15th floor is seeking,” wrote one bureaucrat. The response “Don’t know why the 15th floor is involved.”
The 15th floor is Port Authority colloquialism for the executive suite.
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