After newly discovered emails appeared to connect a top aide of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the controversial closure of several lanes on the world’s busiest bridge as political payback against a local mayor, Christie said in a statement today that he was “misled” by a staffer.
“What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” Christie said. “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. ”
In emails, a close Christie aide as well as other officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are shown discussing the lane closures in a clearly political context.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Bridget Anne Kelley, deputy chief of staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs and a top Christie aide, wrote in an Aug. 13 email sent from her personal account.
The email was written to David Wildstein, director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority, which maintains the George Washington Bridge connecting the two states.
Wildstein replied, “Got it,” also from his personal email account, according to the emails first posted online by The Record and obtained by ABC News.
Wildstein resigned from his post in early December, citing the bridge controversy as a “distraction.”
Christie vowed today that people would be held accountable.
“One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better,” he added. “This behavior is not representative of me or my Administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions.”
Chris Christie ‘Outraged’ By Staffers’ Traffic Ploy Against NJ Mayor
Several lanes were closed Sept. 9 on a busy weekday morning as commuters tried to get to work, children to their first week of school and emergency response personal to incidents in and around the borough of Fort Lee.
ABC News has obtained a letter from Fort Lee, N.J., EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich that documents four medical situations in which emergency responders were delayed due to the traffic gridlock. In one case, a 91-year-old woman was later pronounced dead from cardiac arrest at a local hospital. Although Favia doesn’t directly link her death to the delays, he noted that “paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic on Fort Lee Road and had to meet the ambulance en-route to the hospital instead of on the scene.”
“There were some fire and EMS calls during the periods where there was traffic,” said Fort Lee Police Chief Keith Bendul in an interview. ”The first day when I went to try and find out what was going on, my communications center did tell me we had a cardiac arrest in progress, that there was a call of a child that was missing, that we were trying to respond to.”
“There were also fire calls throughout the week, while this traffic congestion was created,” he added.
The flap has dogged Christie for weeks as New Jersey Democrats have pursued an investigation and have suggested that Christie’s aides sought to punish the Fort Lee mayor for not supporting Christie’s re-election campaign by snarling traffic for nearly a week.
In a Dec. 13 news conference, Christie ousted his top aide at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, and replaced him with another ally.
But he denied that there was anything political about the closures. “The answer is absolutely unequivocally not,” Christie told reporters.
Christie has denied for weeks that his top aides knew anything about the closures and suggested that they were done as part of an ill-timed traffic study. New York officials said no such study existed.
Christie also said the closures “had nothing to do to with me,” though the emails now suggest that his closest aides were involved.
Democrats have used it to tie Christie to a culture of political retribution in the state capital.
“These revelations are troubling for any public official, but they also indicate what we’ve come to expect from Governor Christie – when people oppose him, he exacts retribution,” said Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “When people question him, he belittles and snidely jokes.”
“And when anyone dares to look into his Administration, he bullies and attacks,” she added.
But the emails suggest that his aides, who referred to Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich as “Serbia,” or the “little Serbian,” viewed the closures through a political lens, at the very least.
“I feel bad about the kids,” an unidentified person wrote to Wildstein in a Sept. 10 text message. “I guess.”
“They are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein responded, making reference to Christie’s Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race, state Sen. Barbara Buono.
ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe contributed to this report.