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E-mails, texts tie Christie aides to bridge traffic jam

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the actions “completely inappropriate and unsanctioned.

Mel Evans/Associated Press

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the actions “completely inappropriate and unsanctioned.

NEW YORK — The mystery of who closed two lanes onto the George Washington Bridge — turning the borough of Fort Lee, N.J., into a parking lot for four days in September — exploded into a full-bore political scandal for Governor Chris Christie on Wednesday, when e-mails and texts revealed that a top aide had ordered the closings to punish the town’s mayor after he did not endorse the governor for reelection.

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Christie, e-mailed David Wildstein, a high school friend of the governor who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

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Later text messages mocked concerns that school buses filled with students were stuck in gridlock: “They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote, referring to Christie’s opponent Barbara Buono.

The e-mails are striking in their political maneuvering, showing Christie aides gleeful about the chaos that resulted, including emergency vehicles delayed in responding to three people with heart problems and a missing toddler, as well as commuters fuming. One of the governor’s associates refers to the mayor of Fort Lee as “this little Serbian,” and Kelly exchanges messages about the plan while she is in line to pay her respects at a wake.

Christie denied knowledge of the e-mails and said his staff was to blame. The growing scandal threatens to tarnish him at the moment he assumes an even larger position on the national stage, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and an all-but-certain candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

While the e-mails do not establish that the governor himself called for the lane closings, they show his staff was intimately involved, contrary to Christie’s repeated avowals that no one in his office or campaign knew about them. In fact, the e-mails show, several staff members and appointees worked to cover up the scheme under the ruse that it was a traffic study.

On Wednesday, Christie was largely quiet. He and his staff had apparently been caught off-guard by the day’s disclosures. He canceled his one scheduled public event, where he was expected to talk about progress in recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Late in the afternoon, he issued a statement saying that he had seen the exchanges “for the first time” and casting blame on his staff for “unacceptable” behavior.

“I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge,” Christie’s statement said. “One thing is clear: This type of behavior is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better. This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”

His office did not respond to follow-up inquiries about whether this meant Kelly, or anyone else, had been fired. Wildstein, along with Bill Baroni, Christie’s top appointed staff member at the Port Authority, resigned in December after port officials testified in a legislative hearing that the men had violated protocols and had sought to hide their plans for the lane closings from Fort Lee officials, the police and even other Port Authority officials.

The documents were obtained by The New York Times and other news outlets Wednesday. They are heavily redacted by Wildstein, who turned them over under a subpoena from Democratic legislators investigating the lane closing, making it hard to determine in some cases who is speaking.

But they indicate that Christie’s staff, appointees at the Port Authority, and his campaign office were all intimately involved in discussing the growing scandal and how to react to it even as it was unfolding.

After New York appointees at the Port Authority, who had not been warned in advance about the closings, reopened the lanes four days after they were closed, Wildstein and Kelly expressed panic, but Wildstein assured her that David Samson, Christie’s handpicked chairman of the Port Authority, was “helping us to retaliate.”

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