Christie Charged With Using Busiest U.S. Bridge For Payback

Should Christie become the Republican nominee, expect to hear more stories like this.

I wrote about this on my own blog last week:

Yes, he really is that vindictive and small. I can't wait until the rest of the country understands that!

At first, it seemed crazy to believe that Gov. Chris Christie’s allies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would be stupid enough to mess with the traffic flow at the George Washington Bridge as an act of revenge against a mayor who refused to endorse the governor’s re-election.

But the administration, including the governor, has been so evasive and secretive that it’s obvious they have something to hide.

Most of the relevant players have simply refused to testify. And the one who did, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, was implausible. He said the closures, and the resulting traffic horrors in Fort Lee, were part of a traffic study. But he could not produce the study, or any e-mails discussing the need for a study, or an explanation as to why the agency broke its routine by failing to give advance notice to police, ambulance crews or even relevant employees within the agency.

Now the governor has jumped in. Asked Monday about the lane closures, he mocked the question with this: “I worked the cones,” he said. “Unbeknownst to anyone, I was working the cones.”

Here’s what we know for sure: The lanes were ordered closed by David Wildstein, a political appointee of the governor, not a traffic expert. The agency’s executive director, Patrick Foye, exploded when he learned of the move. He ordered it reversed at once, and called it “dangerous” and “probably illegal.

It's been a big deal on New Jersey talk radio for a while. Now it's percolating up through the national media via Rachel Maddow and the Huffington Post:

The shutdown was ordered by a political appointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Christie's administration said the closure was justified due to a traffic study, while Democrats questioned whether it was political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, who weeks before had refused to endorse Christie's reelection.


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But on Monday, the top Port Authority official threw cold water on the Christie administration's claim, testifying at a state Assembly hearing that he didn't know about any traffic study. The Christie ally who ordered the closure, David Wildstein, resigned on Friday, reigniting questions about whether the traffic snarl created by the closure was all just political payback -- allegations that the Christie administration has dismissed as "crazy."

Christie brought Wildstein into his administration as a top Port Authority official in 2010. But the two go back much further. Wildstein, who founded the political websitePolitickerNJ, and Christie were just a year apart in high school. A 2012 profile of Wildstein in The Record newspaper said figured "prominently" in Christie's effort to change the Port Authority.

"Longtime employees ... privately describe a man intent on carrying out a political agenda rather than one built on reform or improving the region's transportation system," wrote the paper.

Wildstein ordered the closures on Sunday, Sept. 8, according to The Wall Street Journal. The move created a "horror story" of traffic jams in Fort Lee the next day -- the first day of school in the borough -- with cars backed up into local streets. The access lanes reopened on Sept. 13, upon the orders of the Port Authority's executive director, Patrick Foye, an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, wrote on Sept. 12 to Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, saying he believed Wildstein's actions were "punitive," although he has since backed off that accusation.

Just two weeks earlier, Sokolich haddeclined to endorse Christie's reelection bid.

In late November, Baroni told state lawmakers that a traffic study was the reason for the closures. He asked why so many lanes needed to be dedicated to Fort Lee traffic.

Several Democrats said at the time they were unhappy with his testimony.

“While it was nice for him to come, his appearance was somewhat clownish,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D) told The Record. “He smirked through most of the hearing, changed the direction of the hearing as many times as possible to the point where he was asking the committee if we agreed with the policy call the Port Authority made.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the closures were ordered without notifying police, emergency officials or officials on the New York side of the Port Authority's leadership.Christie, meanwhile, has been going after Democrats for being "obsessed" with the issue, arguing that they were the ones playing politics.

Should Christie become the Republican nominee, expect to hear more stories like this -- and more instances of Christie refusing to answer questions, dismissing them as beneath his concern. Because that's just who he is.

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