Christie's "patent lie": Leader of probe explains why his defense is "not credible"

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg tells Salon: "That was a coverup. I said it then, and I’m saying it again"

Published January 17, 2014 1:30PM (EST)

Chris Christie, Loretta Weinberg                         (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/AP/Mel Evans)
Chris Christie, Loretta Weinberg (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/AP/Mel Evans)

The Democrat leading the New Jersey Assembly’s probe into allegedly retaliatory lane closures on the world’s busiest bridge announced the issuance of 20 new subpoenas Wednesday. While Assemblyman Wisniewski declined to identify those being subpoenaed, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg told Salon that the Senate’s parallel probe would be issuing subpoenas to two key Christie appointees: Port Authority chairman David Samson, and Christie’s authorities director Regina Egea, whom he’s tapped to be his next chief of staff. Weinberg, the Senate majority leader, blasted Samson and his fellow commissioners’ approach to the scandal as “disgraceful and disgusting.” She called the governor’s self-defense at last week’s press conference “absolutely not credible,” and charged, “They tried to change this into somehow it should make everybody else mad that Fort Lee had some kind of private roads to the George Washington Bridge -- which is a patent lie.”

Christie “got a copy of a letter from me on Sept. 19 – [to] which I never received a reply,” Sen. Weinberg told Salon. The governor, she argued, “either did not tell the truth when he said he didn’t know about it, or he didn’t want to know.” A condensed version of our conversation follows.

NBC is reporting that the Christie reelection campaign is on the subpoena list. Can you confirm that?

No, I can’t. What I can confirm is on the Senate side, that we will be subpoenaing documents from Mr. Samson, the chairperson of the Port Authority, from Commissioner Pat Schuber, a commissioner on the Port Authority, and from the governor’s new chief of staff [to be], Regina Egea. I have not seen the rest of the subpoena list yet.

What’s the reason that those particular individuals are being subpoenaed?

Well, in terms of Mr. Samson and Mr. Schuber, I’ve spent four months appearing before Port Authority meetings, bringing to their attention what went on here and asking them for an explanation.

Starting Sept. 19, when I wrote a letter to Commissioner Schuber, because he is somebody I voted [to confirm] … I reached out to him to try to find out what’s going on here. He called me and told me he would get to the bottom of it. I have yet to hear back. This is now Jan. 16 -- just about four months to the day.

I’ve appeared before four Port Authority meetings, which Mr. Samson chaired. They all knew what was going – or let’s say, they all should have known. And I haven’t seen yet one iota of evidence that anybody asked to get to the bottom of it.

So I want to see what documents [are] right in Mr. Samson’s office that might pertain to this …

Hopefully, we can reach out and Assemblyman Wisniewski and I will try to work together on this.

Regarding Mr. Samson, the letter released to U.S. Sen. Rockefeller today by the Port Authority seems to put a lot of blame on Wildstein --

Yeah, in which they say that there was no traffic study? That letter, you’re talking about?

Yes. The letter today that seems to suggest Wildstein was the one daily in control of all of this --

Well – [laughs] -- how about Nov. 25, when Bill Baroni went before the Transportation Committee -- not under oath, not under subpoena -- and announced that there was a traffic study, and these were dedicated lanes? Nobody looked into it? Nobody asked him -- that is so outrageous. What have these people, who were in charge of the Port Authority, what have they been doing? Other than apparently circling the wagons.

It is outrageous. Their employee, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, appeared with charts and big red pens, to try to add credence to the coverup. And they did nothing from Nov. 25, when he made up that whole story, and nobody said, “There is no traffic study.” Where were they? Where were these commissioners?

Now, I’m sorry if I get a little bit exercised over this, but I’ve invested a tremendous amount of time trying to find out the truth, and the fact that these men sat there for four meetings and pretended to ignore me is infuriating.

And back in October, I raised the issue: I went to a Port Authority meeting and I said if you’re not going to be forthcoming, I’m asking for subpoena power. Well, lo and behold, Jan. 16, the Senate acted as well it should, and created our own special committee with subpoena power. Now they’re going to have to answer.

Their lack of accountability and oversight is disgraceful and disgusting. And these are the people who are in charge of millions of dollars? And that I have to pay $13 in tolls every time I want to drive over the George Washington Bridge?

Who are these people?

Who are you pointing the finger at here? Are --

I’m pointing the finger at all of the New Jersey commissioners. How could --

Now they do a letter in answer to Sen. Rockefeller that there is no evidence that there was ever a traffic study. This is Jan. 16.

Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority, having been appointed by Gov. Chris Christie to that position, appeared before an Assembly Transportation Committee, not under oath, not as the result of a subpoena, but voluntarily, and stated that there was a traffic study, and that it was because there was this issue of unfairness, that Fort Lee had somehow had a private road to the George Washington bridge.

That was a coverup. I said it then, and I’m saying it again.

And now, to have the Port Authority write a letter in response to Sen. Rockefeller that says, well, there’s no evidence of a traffic study anywhere – where have they been since Nov. 25?

… And there are emails that were subpoenaed, that have been out there in the press, where Mr. Baroni was so full of himself, he was like, in essence – I’m paraphrasing here: What does Trenton think? Did I do good? And he gets an email back from Wildstein: You did good. And Baroni says: Just good? You know, in other words, he wanted more praise for having appeared there.

You know, this is so revolting and so over the top … They put, for four days, thousands of people in jeopardy, and we still don’t know the answer of who ordered it and why.

Then we have fast forward, Mr. Wildstein is going to, quote, “resign” with words of praise from the governor, and allowed to stay until Dec. 31. What happened? ...

The governor never asked Mr. Wildstein what went on here? I mean, they -- the whole thing is so outlandish and the coverup – the coverup wasn’t even good.

This criticism you mentioned of the commissioners, does that apply to David Samson? To Pat Foye?

My criticism applies to David Samson, and every New Jersey commissioner on there.

And these emails that were released, in which David Samson suggests that Foye is “playing in traffic” and “stirring up trouble” --

Yeah, as I said we’re going to [subpoena] Mr. Samson’s documents. And instead of saying [that], how about finding from Patrick Foye what went on? What processes weren’t followed?

… I wrote on Sept. 19, copied to Samson and the governor, which they all ignored ... I went to a subcommittee meeting Oct. 7, I asked all these questions, and nobody gave an answer. So I went back on Oct. 16 to the full Port Authority.

I quoted Patrick Foye’s email. So nobody sitting up there -- all of those commissioners, who are in charge of our New York-New Jersey Port Authority, all of them sat there rolling their eyes, looking at each other -- you know, I know the people on there …

I know these people. And the fact that they sat there and that now, today, we are getting a document released that says there’s no evidence that there ever was a traffic study -- where were the commissioners?

They bear as much responsibility in this as any other person. I have yet to see one document, I have yet to hear one voice from any of the aforementioned, saying, “Could we please get to the bottom of this?”

What kind of responsibility [do] these people have?

And all Mr. Samson did, rather than calling on Pat Foye, he was mad because he leaked an email that said that they might have even broken laws? That’s what got him mad, because the email was released?

… We are going to subpoena all of David Samson’s documents pertaining to the Port Authority around this issue.

Given that Wildstein says, “Samson helping us to retaliate,” and given Samson’s apparent irritation with Foye, is it credible to you the idea that Samson was not in on this before it happened?

No. Because I don’t know whether [chairman] Samson was in on it before it happened, but I do know that chairman Samson knew about my questions back on Sept. 19.And I know Commissioner Samson knew about my questions on Oct. 7, on Oct. 16, on Nov. 13 and on Dec. 4.

All of those meetings I went to, and got up and spoke to each of these people personally and publicly -- and I have never heard a word back from one of them.

So I have to base a judgment on that that: They have been sorely lacking in their responsibility to the people I represent, and to the people that Gov. Christie represents too. And to put thousands of people in jeopardy and harm’s way, to cause little kindergarteners and first-graders to be late to their first day of school, to cause doctors to complain that they couldn’t get to their surgical practice, to -- all the anecdotes that we have heard -- and we have yet to hear from one commissioner in the Port Authority.

So while the four people around the governor, two of them resigned under pressure from the Port Authority, and two in the governor’s office were fired -- the governor appoints these commissioners, he nominates them, we vote, advise and consent – and the fact that all of these people around the governor, that the chairperson of the Port Authority is a close friend, a trusted adviser, and that chairman sat there while Bill Baroni came forth and gave testimony – again, not under oath, but gave testimony -- that was false, misleading and a lie, and nothing even nicer I can think of saying about it.

So should David Samson resign?

Well, if David Samson cannot produce one bit of paperwork or information that he in fact took his responsibility seriously here, I think that David Samson has to answer for that. And [that’s] hopefully what our Senate committee will get to.

The fact that Pat Foye’s email was forwarded to Regina Egea, the fact that Christie’s counsel was informed about this issue, what does that suggest about the governor’s relationship to this?

It suggests to me that there’s a lot of people involved who in the least, if they didn’t know beforehand, at least knew enough about it to ask questions, to find out what went on. And they have absolutely shirked their responsibilities.

Had they answered the question when I originally posed them, back in September, maybe you and I wouldn’t be talking right now. And [said then], “Well, there’s a rogue by the name of David Wildstein, he did this all by himself.” [But] it wasn’t David Wildstein that sent the email. He received the email by Bridget Kelly that said time to create traffic. So you know, just the lack of good sense here is appalling.

When Gov. Christie said in his press conference, “We didn't even know about the existence of the email. I found that out for the first time at 8:50 yesterday morning,” is that credible to you?

No. It’s absolutely not credible. As I’ve said, if you didn’t know about it in advance, he got a copy of a letter from me on Sept. 19 – [to] which I never received a reply. So it’s not credible.

Is it credible that he would have fired Bridget Kelly for lying to him, and he never asked her why? Is it credible that as of Dec. 2 he was still standing in a press conference claiming that there were dedicated lanes in Fort Lee that “sauced” him? They tried to change this into somehow it should make everybody else mad that Fort Lee had some kind of private roads to the George Washington Bridge, which is a patent lie. And Dec. 2, he was still talking about it.

So tell me what these people are doing: Either they purposely went along with the lie, or they didn’t know it was a lie and they never bothered to check it out.

So has Chris Christie lied?

Chris Christie either did not tell the truth when he said he didn’t know about it, or he didn’t want to know. Either way, that’s an indictment of his managerial style or an indictment of his truthfulness. What was he doing between Sept. 13 when this took place, and his press conference of three or four days ago?

Is there a point at which the governor should resign?

I’m not going to predict that the governor should resign. I think we need to find a lot more out here.

But I think the governor has things to answer for.

By Josh Eidelson

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