New documents in Christie bridge scandal: official raised public safety concerns

New documents in Christie bridge scandal: official raised public safety concerns
POOL/CNN
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Friday, January 10, 2014 - 5:04pm

(CNN) -- Severe traffic jams last September in and around Fort Lee, New Jersey, and the George Washington Bridge that are at the center of a political scandal involving top advisers to Gov. Chris Christie quickly triggered public safety concerns.

Newly released e-mails show the general manager of the nation's busiest bridge expressed concerns on the first day of lane closures at the foot of the Hudson River crossing that they were causing more than just traffic headaches for motorists heading to New York.

"Specifically traffic conditions required Ft Lee officers to remain out on corners, managing traffic instead of attending to public safety issues," Durando wrote in the September 9 e-mail to a colleague.

He also expressed concerns about the "inability of emergency response vehicles" to get through local streets.

"Fort Lee is not happy," Durando said in another e-mail.

The new documents were the latest details to surface in the firestorm that has rocked Christie's administration and raised questions about how it might impact a potential presidential candidacy by the popular Republican.

The extensive file of information was released by a New Jersey legislative committee probing alleged abuse of authority by a top-level Christie staffer and other associates apparently behind a political retribution scheme to orchestrate traffic jams in Fort Lee to punish the mayor for not endorsing the governor for re-election.

Friday's documents follow explosive e-mails released on Wednesday that identified key players and the basic outlines of the scheme.

Christie denounced the effort as outrageous and not connected to him in any way. He fired one aide. Others identified as being involved have also left their jobs.

In addition to the legislative investigation, the scandal has prompted a review by federal prosecutors and triggered a class-action lawsuit against Christie and those at the center of the storm.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, the Democratic politician apparently targeted, said the tie-ups last September caused residents of his town "misery and agony" in his town and around the bridge access lanes.

He met with Christie on Thursday and told CNN that the governor was gracious and that he accepted his apology. But, Sokolich believes the matter is far from finished.

An uncharacteristically low-key Christie appeared chastened at a news conference before his meeting with Sokolich, and said he was stunned by the revelations.

Christie and his staff originally blamed traffic snafus on a transportation study they said had been mishandled.

He said he found out about the more troubling reason for the disruption like everyone else on Wednesday when the e-mails surfaced publicly.

Christie's political star hangs in the balance with multiple investigations immediately clouding any future aspirations of a presidential run in 2016.

The e-mail exchanges began three weeks before access lanes to the bridge were closed, two months before Election Day.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, said in an e-mail to David Wildstein, then the highest-level appointee representing the state at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The transportation agency operates the George Washington Bridge connecting New York and New Jersey.

"Got it," Wildstein replied.

Wildstein, who left his job in December and Kelly was fired.

The scheme unfolded from there, leading to traffic tie-ups from September 9-13.

On Thursday, Wildstein obeyed a judge's order to appear before a state legislative committee. But he invoked his constitutional right to not testify.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the state legislator leading the investigation, has accused Christie of still holding back.

"We intend to continue our investigation, but this would all be made easier if Governor Christie did the right thing and voluntarily released all communications so everyone could find out with certainty what happened," Wisniewski said in a statement. "If he's truly dedicated to transparency and the truth from here on out, he will take this step and cooperate fully with the committee's work."

The scandal threatens to imperil Christie's presidential ambitions but has not necessarily derailed them, Oxford University historian Timothy Stanley wrote in an opinion piece for CNN.com.

"He's a resourceful politician and it's still many months before campaigning starts in earnest," Stanley wrote. "But now, his opponents have a stick to beat him with."

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