Embattled Ex-Ally of Christie Says Governor Knew About Traffic Closures. Is That a Big Deal?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 31 2014 4:54 PM

Embattled Ex-Ally of Christie Says Governor Knew About Traffic Closures. Is That a Big Deal?

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Former Port Authority official David Wildstein: the man who brings down Chris Christie?

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

It's been a rough January for David Wildstein, the fired appointee of Chris Christie accused of ordering bridge closures at Fort Lee to punish a mayor for his non-endorsement of the governor.* He rose from relative obscurity to the center of a scandal, and for his sins, he got to hear Christie dismiss him as an irrelevant high school classmate, not a friend. You can see why Wildstein's attorney, Alan Zegas, sent a letter defending his client by—among other things—accusing Christie of lying about what he knew.* Kate Zernike scoops the letter, which includes this accusation.

It has [come] to light that a person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie administration's order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and 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 he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee.
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So, Wildstein says Christie lied, but the wording here is frustratingly formless. In the epic presser, Christie spent a lot of time denying any knowledge that the closures were part of a revenge scheme. Only once did he sort of suggest he was totally ignorant of the closures themselves. It happened when one reporter asked whether, "considering your management style and the closeness of your staff, if you didn't know about it, what does that say about your ability to lead?" Christie responded that he was no petty micromanager.

There's no way that anybody would think that I know about everything that's going on, not only in ever agency of government at all times, but also every independent authority that New Jersey either has on its own or by state -- both with New York, with Pennsylvania and with Delaware. So what I can tell you is if people find that hard to believe, I don't know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this -- of the planning, the execution or anything about it -- and that I first found out about it after it was over.  And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study. 

The closures, remember, happened eight weeks before an election that Christie was winning by a landslide. Fort Lee was the sort of community Christie lost or tied in four years earlier, but was converting in the re-elect.

So it always sounded odd that the governor would be unaware of a closure that caused news-leading traffic snarls. Christie's office hasn't responded to the Wildstein claim yet—if it has an answer, it's probably going to be that knowledge of the closure was not per se knowledge of the conspiracy.

*Correction, Jan. 31, 2014: This post originally mispelled the last name of Alan Zegas, David Wildstein's attorney. It also referred to Wildstein as a former aide of Chris Christie, but has been updated to describe Wildstein as Christie's former ally.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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