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Emails Tie Gov. Christie's Aides To Lane Closings Controversy

Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.
Kena Betancur
Getty Images
Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.

Update at 8:15 p.m. ET: Gov. Christie Responds

In the late afternoon, Gov. Chris Christie released a statement expressing anger at the situation and denying involvement in what appeared to be an act of political payback:

"What I've seen today for the first time is unacceptable. 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. 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."

Our original post continues below:

"A series of newly obtained emails shows that Gov. Chris Christie's office was closely involved with lane closures on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge in September, and that officials closed the lanes in what appeared to be retribution against the mayor whose town was gridlocked as a result," The New York Times reported Wednesday morning.

Our colleagues at WNYC, who have posted copies of the emails, write that:

"An email message to the central figure in the fray surrounding the closure of traffic lanes to the George Washington Bridge links a top aide to Governor Chris Christie to the growing scandal. 'Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,' the aide to Christie, Bridget Ann Kelly wrote to David Wildstein. A minute later, Wildstein replied 'got it.' "

New Jersey's largest newspaper is on the story as well and writes that:

"Gov. Chris Christie's deputy chief of staff had advance knowledge of a plan to shut down local access lanes to the George Washington in September, and was aware that the closures would snarl traffic on Fort Lee streets, according to documents obtained by The Star-Ledger.

" 'Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,' read an email message from the deputy, Bridget Anne Kelly, dated Aug. 13, nearly a month before the Sept. 9-13 closures, which snarled traffic and sparked a scandal that has drawn national attention."

Another New Jersey newspaper, The Record, starts its report this way:

"Private messages between Governor's Christie's deputy chief of staff and two of his top executives at the Port Authority reveal a vindictive effort to create 'traffic problems in Fort Lee' by shutting lanes to the George Washington Bridge and apparent pleasure at the resulting gridlock.

"The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee's mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how local officials tried to reach the Port Authority in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000, which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world's busiest."

It's All Politics reported in December that "what began as a local story involving The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that oversees the Hudson River crossings between the two states," was already snowballing "into an alleged case of political revenge and abuse of power."

And the story was of interest nationally, of course, because Christie is among those considered to be leading contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Christie has said he that neither he nor his staff had anything to do with the lane closings. The Times writes that "after the emails were released on Wednesday, Mr. Christie canceled his one public event for the day, which had been billed as an announcement of progress in the recovery from Hurricane Sandy."

The mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., is a Democrat. Before November's election, Christie had been pressing the state's Democrats to cross party lines and endorse his re-election. "Democrats suspect the unusual [lane] closings were retaliation for the mayor's failure to support Christie's re-election," the Star-Ledger says.

The official reason for the lane closings, Christie and his aides have said, was that they were part of a study to determine if bridge traffic would be smoother if access from Fort Lee was restricted.

There's more about "GWBridgegate" on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show.

State lawmakers have launched an investigation into all this.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.