State officials on Friday released thousands of pages of documents subpoenaed from the Port Authority in the wake of a continuing investigation into whether staffers and appointees of Gov. Chris Christie orchestrated a September traffic nightmare in Fort Lee.
The documents contain mostly communications between top Port Authority officials and operations and media personnel of the bi-state agency, as well as details of the traffic study that prompted the lane closures.
The emails expose infighting between New York and New Jersey agency leadership, and a months-long attempt to stonewall media inquiries into the lane closures.
What the communications do not contain is a "smoking gun" that shows anyone directly ordering the lanes be closed as political dirty play.
Among the emails is a sharply-worded September missive from Patrick Foye, the authority’s executive director, demanding that workers immediately reopen the lanes in Fort Lee.
Writing on Sept. 13, days into the closures, Foye promised to find out who was responsible for the “hasty and ill-advised’’ and “abusive’’ decision to close them to traffic.
“To be clear, I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for,’’ the email reads. “I intend to learn how PA (Port Authority) process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged to say nothing of the credibility of this agency.’’
Foye is an appointee of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York. Under Port Authority's rules, the New York governor appointed the executive director, while Christie, a Republican, appointed his deputy, Bill Baroni.
Foye's concerns about the lane closures were captured in a Wall Street Journal report last month that said Christie complained in a private phone call to Cuomo that the Port Authority head was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of the lane-closure maneuvers.
In an exchange that same day, Baroni took issue with Foye was venting his concerns in an email to other Port Authority officials and wrote, "Pat, we need to discuss prior to any communications."
"Bill we are going to fix this fiasco," Foye shot back.
"I am on way to office to discuss. There can be no public discourse," Baroni responded.
One particularly inflammatory email was written on Sept. 17 by former New Jersey Attorney General David Samson, who is chairman of the Port Authority's Board of Commissioners.
In the email, Samson says he is convinced that Foye "leaked to the [Wall Street Journal] his story about Fort Lee issues."
“It confirms evidence of Foye’s being the leak, stirring up trouble,” Samson wrote. “This is yet another example of a story, we’ve seen it before, where he distances himself from an issue in the press and [then] rides in on a white horse to save the day. … In this case, he’s playing in traffic, made a big mistake.”
Samson described Foye’s alleged leak as "very unfortunate for NY/NJ relations.”
Baroni, meanwhile, was among at least three public officials who have resigned or have been fired in the wake of the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal. Christie apologized Thursday for the role one top staffer played in the lane closings, which have been called punitive in nature.
One revelation made clear in the documents is that officials were, in fact, studying the impact of what fewer lanes dedicated to Fort Lee would mean for “mainline” motorists. Several presentations present data from the study, including that “mainline” motorists saved 966 vehicle hours of delay, but that savings was offset by an additional 2,800 hours of delays in Fort Lee.
It claimed the study was conducted in connection with planned Lemoine Avenue construction.
The communications also show that officials were monitoring reaction from motorists, and logged numerous angry calls.
Christie, a potential presidential candidate, took questions for more than an hour Thursday in a press conference that stood in bold relief when played alongside a clip of Christie sarcastically answering a question about the “traffic study” from the same wooden podium several months ago.
After the press conference, the governor travelled to Fort Lee, where he apologized to its mayor, Mark Sokolich, and its citizens. Sokolich accepted Christie's apology, and also said late Thursday afternoon that he believed the governor had no role in the closures.
Emails first obtained by The Record show Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly told a Port Authority official close to Christie that it was “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” about two weeks before the lanes were closed.
“Got it,” replied the Port Authority executive, David Wildstein, who resigned last month as national media and incensed local politicians turned up the heat on the scandal.Wildstein appeared before a Legislative hearing Thursday afternoon and continually invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the committee found him in contempt.