Nation & World News

N.J. Bridge Scandal: New Emails And Documents Are Released

By Bill Chappell on January 10th, 2014

A New Jersey State Assembly committee released a trove of documents Friday that shed more light on the bridge lane-closure scandal that is embroiling Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. The panel is seeking details on what’s seen as an act of political retribution, which targeted the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J. It obtained the documents under a subpoena.

The lane closures, which were blamed for causing severe congestion on four consecutive days in Fort Lee in early September, are referred to as a “new traffic pattern” and a “trial” in the documents, which include emails and text messages among transportation, government and police officials.

They also include notes of frustration from commuters, including one woman who accused Port Authority officials who control the bridge of “playing God with people’s jobs,” as The New York Times reports.

The restriction of traffic from three lanes down to one on the George Washington Bridge, which links Fort Lee to Manhattan, has since been called an act of political bullying by some. Christie denied those charges Thursday, apologizing to the mayor of Fort Lee and saying, “I am not a bully.”

The documents released today by the Assembly’s Democratic-controlled Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee drew from these sources:

  • David M. Wildstein — former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (resigned in December)
  • William E. Baroni Jr. — former Port Authority deputy executive director (resigned in December)
  • Robert Durando — general manager of the George Washington Bridge
  • Patrick J. Foye — executive director of the Port Authority
  • Cedrick Fulton — director of the Port Authority’s Tunnels, Bridges, and Terminals Division
  • Darcy Licorish — inspector in the Port Authority Police Department
  • Paul Nunziato — president of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, a union that includes many police officers

Licorish, who passed along orders to place cones on the roadway and delivered updates on the closure to other officials, submitted an email dated Friday, Sept. 13, in which she summarizes some of the workings behind the closure.

The police inspector says the bridge’s general manager, Robert Durando, informed her of the impending “new traffic pattern” on Friday, Sept. 6, days before the change was instituted. She says she did not receive answers to several questions, including whether the plan was permanent or temporary and whether the local township had been notified.

In a Sept. 10 email submitted by Licorish, Durando writes, “Just got off the phone with DW. He’d like to continue the test of tl 24 through tomorrow.”

DW would refer to Wildstein, we presume. It seems “tl 24″ refers to a toll lane near the bridge’s entry point.

NPR and other news agencies are sifting through the documents. Because of the intense interest in the files, download times on the New Jersey site were slowed to a crawl for some users. We’ll add more details to this post as stories emerge.

The documents revealed Friday did not answer all of the Assembly committee’s questions — especially those centering on allegations of an Aug. 13 email exchange and a meeting between Christie and David Samson, a former attorney general who went on to be chairman of the Port Authority.

“I think one of the most difficult issues that we confront in this entire inquiry is that as soon as we know more, we have more questions,” said Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski, the panel’s chairman, who is leading the inquiry.

That quote comes from a transcript the Transportation panel published of its Thursday hearing with Wildstein. He visited the committee under subpoena Thursday, a session in which he repeatedly asserted his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

During the hearing, the committee voted to hold Wildstein in contempt after, as Wisniewski said, the former transportation official refused to answer questions such as, “Is this your e-mail? Where did you work? What was your job?”

In supporting the vote for contempt, Republican Assembly member Brian Rumpf said, “And just to be clear… not only do I find the conduct to be one of contempt, I find the overall situation to be contemptuous.”

Near the end of the hearing, Wisniewski asked:

“Who in the Governor’s Office knew about the plan to close the lanes or divert the lanes, who was involved, what did they know, when did they know it? And just as equally: Who was involved, what did they know, when did they know it when the effort was made to craft an explanation for the lane closure?”

The documents the panel has been given, he concluded, “only tell part of the story.”

Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, responded, “Well, if the Attorneys General for New Jersey, New York, and the United States were all to agree to clothe Mr. Wildstein with an immunity, I think that you’d find yourselves in a far different position with respect to the information he could provide.”

“That’s your job,” Wisniewski said, as some in the room laughed. “We just want answers to our questions.”

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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