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Christie’s Office Issues Attack on Wildstein

Gov. Chris Christie
Andrew Burton, Getty Images

Gov. Chris Christie’s office Saturday issued a sharp attack on the former Port Authority official who 24 hours earlier challenged the accuracy of Christie’s statements about the Bridgegate scandal.

 In a letter published by Politico, Christie’s office said: “Bottom line – David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein.” The email also takes a swipe at The New York Times, which first carried the new Wildstein allegation on Friday.

“New York Times Bombshell Not a Bombshell,” the letter headlines the first of several points. “A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually “evidence” when it was a letter [from Wildstein's attorney] alleging that ‘evidence exists.’

The letter repeats Christie’s assertions that he knew “nothing” about the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge last September until seeing media reports of them and then “was told this was a traffic study.” A shorter statement released by the governor’s office late Friday said the Wildstein letter did not appear to contradict this position.

Finally, the letter takes aim at “David Wildstein’s past,” including newspaper accounts describing the former Christie high school classmate as “tumultuous” and even referring to an incident in which Wildstein “was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”

Wildstein, who resigned from his Port Authority position in December, apparently under pressure from the burgeoning lane closing controversy, had been appointed by Christie.

Friday afternoon, Wildstein attorney Alan L. Zegas’ letter to the Port Authority, was published online by The Times and quickly picked up by other media. In it, Zegas said his client has evidence to contradict Christie’s claims in an apologetic Jan. 8 press conference that he had no knowledge of the plans, which have since mushroomed into the Bridgegate scandal and touched off investigations by the New Jersey State Legislature and federal law enforcement authorities.

Christie’s office initially responded by issuing the following statement:

“Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along – he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with. As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”

[SEE FULL BRIDGEGATE COVERAGE]

It was Wildstein who received the now infamous email from Bridget Anne Kelly last Aug. 13, which read: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” referring to the Jersey town brought to a standstill by the surprise lane closings. The email, along with a mountain of other message and documents, threw the Bridgegate controversy into hyperdrive when they were first leaked and later released by a legislative investigative committee the second week in January.

In a dramatic two-hour press conference that week, Christie announced he had just fired Kelly “because she lied” about having no knowledge of the lane closing plan, since portrayed in subpoenaed documents as an act of political retribution by an over-aggressive Christie inner circle. In Jan. 8 press conference and since, the governor has maintained he had no advance knowledge or involvement in the plan, which he described as an act of “abject stupidity.” He has maintained he was told after the closings that they were part of a traffic study.

The letter cited by The Times states: “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.” An image of the letter, published online by the newspaper, shows it to have been sent by the law firm of Alan L. Zegas to Darrell Buchbinder, general counsel of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, apparently in response to the PA decision not to pay for Wildstein’s legal expenses. Wildstein resigned from his PA position in late December, apparently because of mounting pressure for the lane closings to be explained.

Wildstein appeared before the State Assembly Transportation Committee investigating Bridgegate on Jan. 8 but invoked his constitutional right to decline testifying. Zegas, who represented him at the hearing, has repeatedly said his client would only discuss the lane closing plan if given immunity from prosecution.

Also Friday, another key Bridgegate figure, speaking through his attorney, said he will not comply with the Monday deadline of a legislative subpoena about the matter, The Star-Ledger reported. Kevin Marino, the attorney for former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien sent the joint state Senate and Assembly Bridgegate committee a letter citing Stepien’s constitutional protections against self-incrimination and illegal search and seizure, stating further that Stepien will provide no materials Monday.

The committee co-chairs, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) later released a statement saying, We just received Mr. Marino’s letter this afternoon. We are reviewing it and considering our legal options with respect to enforcing the subpoena.”

Wisniewski and Weinberg said they had also received a copy of the Wildstein letter from Zegas and are reviewing that as well.

More coverage:

Exclusive: Chris Christie Attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein / Politico

Chris Christie’s Office Targets Former Ally in Memo / New York Times

Chris Christie’s ex-classmate, David Wildstein, causes new trouble in bridge scandal / Star-Ledger

Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes / New York Times

Full text of letter from Wildstein attorney Alan Zegas / Wall Street Journal Online

 

 

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