The Bridgegate imbroglio no longer dominates political headlines the way it did one year ago, but with a federal investigation into the affair still underway, the scandal continues to create headaches for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The latest source of irritation comes in the form of an extensive WNYC report, which suggests that Christie and his inner circle had significantly more contact than previously acknowledged with David Wildstein, the Christie-appointed Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who played a key role in engineering the September 2013 lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
Wildstein served on the Port Authority from 2010 until 2013, when he stepped down amid the mounting firestorm over the politically motivated lane closures. In January of 2014, Wildstein's legal counsel asserted that despite Christie's claims to the contrary, the governor was aware of the lane closures as they occurred. In response, Christie blasted Wildstein, depicting him as a rogue, disgruntled ex-employee utterly lacking in credibility.
Earlier that month -- when Wildstein's role in the scandal was already clear, but before he cast blame on the governor -- Christie told reporters that he couldn't recall meeting with Wildstein at any point during his tenure as governor. Downplaying reports that the two were close friends, Christie even made a point of noting that they belonged to different social circles when they attended the same high school together. "You know, I was the class president and athlete," Christie said. "I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.”
But after examining Wildstein's calendars from his nearly four years at the Port Authority, WNYC reveals that the relationship between Wildstein and the Christie inner circle appears to have been much tighter than the governor has led the public to believe:
The records and interviews indicate that during his tenure at the Port Authority, Wildstein met at least twice with Christie, joined him at seven public events and had regular meetings with the governor’s closest confidantes. On the day after a news report revealed that Wildstein was involved in the mysterious lane closures, his calendar had one 14-hour entry: Trenton.
Wildstein’s schedules list seven meetings at the statehouse, but his calendars are sometimes inconsistent with records maintained by the Christie Administration, and WNYC was not able to independently confirm the five other meetings took place.
The difficulty of corroborating events in the calendars can be shown by examining one entry on a Sunday in November 2013 as the Bridgegate scandal was unfolding. Wildstein listed a 1 p.m. meeting with “CC” —the governor’s initials — at the Black Horse Tavern in Mendham, down the road from the governor’s house and across the street from his family’s church. "There was no meeting with the governor," said Kevin Roberts, a Christie spokesman.
There's one way to determine whether Christie's office is telling the truth: His office could make the governor's meeting schedules public, potentially corroborating Roberts' claim. But, WNYC reports, the Christie administration refuses to release his meeting records:
Many governors make their meeting schedules public. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo posts his on the internet. But when WNYC requested Christie’s own meeting schedules under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, the request was denied. WNYC sued to obtain the documents; a judge ruled against the request.
Additionally, the new report finds, Wildstein's calendars show "almost monthly" meetings with Bill Stepien, who managed both of Christie's gubernatorial campaigns and served as the governor's top political aide at the statehouse. Wildstein also appears to have shared lunches and dinners with Mike DuHaime, who is still Christie's chief political strategist and is expected to play a leading role in Christie's presumptive presidential campaign. Those meetings suggest that Wildstein was very much plugged in to Christie's political operation, lending credence to earlier reports that Wildstein served as Christie's "eyes and ears" on the Port Authority.
Read the full WNYC report here, and listen to the audio below: