Christie aide testifies he was misled about bridge scandal

TRENTON, New Jersey Tue May 13, 2014 5:57pm EDT

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada March 29, 2014. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting at the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada March 29, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus

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TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's spokesman testified on Tuesday that he was misled by fellow officials about the purpose of a major traffic disruption apparently used to retaliate against a political foe, and called the episode "shocking and disorienting."

Michael Drewniak, Christie's long-time press secretary, appeared for the first time before a legislative panel in Trenton that is looking into the September incident, which occurred in the midst of Christie's successful re-election campaign, and why the apparent abuse of power was able to occur.

The incident has been deeply embarrassing for Christie, a prominent Republican mulling a possible 2016 run for the White House, although the governor has emphatically denied he had any involvement in or knowledge of it.

The shutdown over four days of access lanes connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, and the George Washington Bridge, the busiest span in the country, caused massive traffic tie-ups, delaying school buses, ambulances and commuters trying to enter New York City.

The plan was apparently orchestrated by two former Christie appointees in an effort to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie's re-election.

One of those aides, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's ex-deputy chief of staff, sent a now-infamous email saying "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Drewniak told the panel he was blindsided by this "strange, unnecessary and idiotic episode that brought us here today," and felt betrayed by both Kelly and David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the bridge.

Drewniak said Wildstein, whom he considered a friend, had assured him the tie-ups were due to a legitimate traffic study. Drewniak said he was unaware of the disruptions in Fort Lee, or allegations the lane closures were punitive, until he began receiving media inquires about the "Bridgegate" scandal.

Under grilling by lawmakers about why he had not taken more seriously ongoing questions about the incident, Drewniak said he believed the allegations were the work of an overzealous media and Democratic opponents.

"He (Wildstein) took advantage of my wanting to believe in him for all the right reasons," Drewniak said. "The disappointment that I was dealing with someone that could conduct such a thing... I was embarrassed by it."

Both Wildstein and Kelly have left their government jobs, and neither has addressed the incident publicly.

Drewniak said he met Wildstein for dinner last December as the Port Authority official came under pressure to resign amid the growing controversy.

At that dinner, Wildstein "was apologetic about how badly it was handled," but never admitted the scheme was politically motivated, Drewniak said.

"He said ‘I created this whole idea for a traffic study, but I let others know about it,'" Drewniak said. "My clear impression was that he wanted me to take this back to the administration, he wanted to stay on, and also if there was a presidential run, he wanted to be part of that."

An investigation commissioned by the governor's office in March blamed the shutdown plan entirely on Wildstein and Kelly. But Democratic lawmakers have rejected that review as incomplete.

Federal prosecutors have also opened probes into the Bridgegate matter.

The executive director of the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, was also scheduled to testify Tuesday but rescheduled his appearance for June.

(Editing by Edith Honan and Ken Wills)

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Comments (11)
SunnyDaySam wrote:
‘As the scandal broke, Christie hired his own law firm to investigate. That review exonerated the governor and every current member of his staff…’

gee, isn’t that what you pay lawyers for – to convince people you’re innocent? and btw, Christie billed the taxpayers over one million for his sham ‘investigation’.

May 13, 2014 7:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
AlfBundy wrote:
Democrats will investigate this until the cows come home. But they won’t even attend the hearings in IRS Scandal, Benghazi coverup OR draft 1 single federal budget (their actual assigned job). I don’t care if this guy is a douche. He should be a Dem and he would be President. But Dems better wake up and start investigating their own. This healthcare fiasco IS a fiasco and you Own It. How about an investigation into that!

May 13, 2014 8:16am EDT  --  Report as abuse
frankiefrank wrote:
42 years after Watergate and the media still can’t come up with anything other than “. . . gate”? Do they realize that half of their readers weren’t alive during Watergate? Evidently not. Good lord is there no creativity out there?

May 13, 2014 9:17am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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