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With GWB Investigation Widening, Emails Show PA, Others Stonewalling Press

1-13-14

By David Cruz
Correspondent

The emails and other correspondence haven’t implicated Gov. Chris Christie, but they confirm that some in the governor’s inner circle certainly knew about the lane closures and the mess they created.

Sept. 12, day three of the lane closures, a Port Authority PR person forwards an email to Bridget Kelly, then still the governor’s deputy chief of staff, and Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary. The email is from The Record’s columnist John Cichowski, asking, among other things, why the lanes were closed and when they would reopen.

“They did not respond right away, so that gave me cart blanche pretty much to spend the time to talk to the travelers, people who were having this problem, the police chief. The mayor then says, ‘Maybe it’s something that I [the mayor] did wrong,’” said Cichowski, whose “Road Warrior” column covers North Jersey traffic issues. “The idea then germinates that maybe there’s something more sinister about this than a simple lane closure for a traffic safety study.”

Although he’s been fuzzy about whether the governor’s people ever even officially asked him for an endorsement, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich recalls that — after three days of gridlock and no word from the Port Authority — he started to get suspicious about what the lane closures were really about.

“At that point I was almost convinced that it was retribution,” recalled the mayor last week, “but I didn’t view it as a benefit to Fort Lee to enter into that political fray. I didn’t.”

While Sokolich was getting radio silence, Cichowski was also hitting a stone wall.

“Now you probably know as a journalist that the Port Authority is not the quickest to respond to this criticism,” added Cichowski.

The PA’s reputation for ignoring media inquiries is, in fact, legendary among reporters, and emails show Media Relations Director Steve Coleman stonewalling reporters at every turn.

“I will not respond unless instructed to do so,” he writes to Port Authority executives. He uses the same line repeatedly — at least 30 times.

Drewniak, now actively engaged in the damage control, expresses disdain for a reporter in one of the more profane emails we read.

“F**k him and the [Star-Ledger],” reads the email.

Meanwhile, Gov. Christie insists that while Bridget Kelly, assumed to have given the green light to the lane closures; David Wildstein, who gave the operational “go;” Bill Baroni, the agency’s deputy executive director; and Bill Stepien, the governor’s campaign manager were all exchanging emails about it, he — the governor — knew nothing about the alleged conspiracy.

“Just so we’re really clear, I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was displayed here, regardless of what the facts ultimately uncover,” the governor asserted last week.

Even with the thousands of pages of emails already released, there is a lot about this matter that remains hidden under black marker. It is this information and more that two special legislative committees and the U.S. Attorney will seek to uncover, as what started as a two-bit lane closure now threatens to consume a governor and his presidential aspirations.