Bridget Anne Kelly, chief of staff for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was fired an hour after Christie learned of the emails between her and David Wildstein, former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Christie told reporters on Thursday.
Although the emails appeared to point to the involvement of Christie, he said that he had “no knowledge or involvement” in what happened.
The “bridgegate” scenario refers to when the George Washington Bridge was closed for five days in September, snarling traffic on streets in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The bridge connects New York City and New Jersey and is one of the world’s busiest spans.
The emails, obtained by the Wall Street Journal and other news agencies, include Kelly and other Christie officials discussing how the closures were a type of punitive measure against Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee. The emails show that the officials knew that the closure would have a big and negative impact on Fort Lee. The emails also include insults about Sokolich.
The closures were done because of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority, officials previously said.
In one of the emails, Kelly writes to Wildstein, another official at Port Authority, about three weeks before the closure: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she writes.
Wildstein writes back: “Got it.”
Kelly wrote the email on Aug. 13, about a month before two of three local access lanes to the bridge were diverted, causing hour-long backups in Fort Lee during the first week of school. The message was among a series of emails and texts that are the clearest sign yet that Christie aides were involved in the lane closures.
Christie, a star in the Republican Party who’s considered a possible candidate for president in 2016, has denied that the lane closings were punitive and has said his staff was not involved. After the emails were made public Wednesday, he abruptly postponed a scheduled morning event.
Wildstein, a childhood friend of the governor, has resigned over the lane closings. He is scheduled to testify under oath before a state Assembly committee conducting one of three ongoing investigations into the lane closings.
Other Christie associates are mentioned in the email chain, including David Samson, chairman of the agency.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich tried to get information about the closures, but Christie’s executives ignored him.
Kelly asked Wildstein via email on September 9, the first day of the closures, if Sokolich’s calls had been returned.
“Radio silence,” Wildstein replied. “His name comes right after mayor Fulop,” a reference, the New Jersey Record says, to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who said this week that Christie’s administration previously took action against him because he didn’t endorse the governor for re-election.
The George Washington Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, New Jersey and New York City. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
In another exchange, this time via text message, Wildstein talks with an unidentified person.He tells the person the Fort Lee mayor was complaining that school buses were having trouble getting through the traffic that was brought on by the bridge closure.
“Is it wrong that I’m smiling,” the person says.
Wildstein responds: “No.”
“I feel badly about the kids,” the person replied to Wildstein. “I guess.”
Wildstein responds: “They are the children of Buono voters,” referring to Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor who lost to Christie late last year.
The messages “indicate what we’ve come to expect from Gov. Christie — when people oppose him, he exacts retribution. When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes. And when anyone dares to look into his administration, he bullies and attacks,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said.
But Christie said he didn’t know about the emails and that they weren’t an indication of how his government is run.
“This is the exception, not the rule,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
He fired Kelly because “she lied to me,” he said. “I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.”
Kelly was the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie’s second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn’t endorse Christie for re-election.
The revelations thrust a regional transportation issue into a national conversation raising new questions about the ambitious governor’s leadership on the eve of a second term designed to jumpstart his road to the White House.
The U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Paul Fishman, said he was “reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated.” The legislature is also investigating.
Christie on Thursday focused repeatedly not on the closures themselves but on how upset he was that his staff didn’t tell him the truth when asked about the closures.
“What did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me?” he asked.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.