Documents: Christie appointees joke about rabbi and traffic jams

Documents: Christie appointees joke about rabbi and traffic jams
Thursday, February 27, 2014 - 9:07pm

Two figures at the center of a New Jersey political scandal joked about creating traffic jams outside the home of a local rabbi, according to newly released documents that raised more questions about the controversy roiling the administration of Gov. Chris Christie.

David Wildstein, at the time a top executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, sent Bridget Anne Kelley, then a top aide to Christie, a photo in a text message last August that included the rabbi, Mendy Carlebach, saying "he has officially pissed me off."

She responded: "clearly," and "we cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house can we?"

Wildstein responds: "Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed."

The Port Authority oversees New York-area airports, in addition to bridges, tunnels, and bus terminals.

It is not clear why the officials were upset with Carlebach, a Port Authority chaplain.

"As a Chabad Rabbi, I have served the people of our great state in times of need and otherwise for more than a decade," he said in a statement. "In this capacity, I have worked with a number of governors and their administrations. My work has always been apolitical and I have no knowledge nor understanding of why my name was mentioned in these exchanges."

Still, the exchanges raise more questions about Christie appointees and suggestions of political mischief.

"It tells you they were joking about it. That will be part of the investigation. What's the culture?" CNN Chief National Correspondent John King said.

The emails and texts also provide a glimpse into how key players handled the unfolding scandal -- and even offered a little foreshadowing. At one point, Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, texted Wildstein and asked: "Are we being fired?"

Weeks later, both Baroni and Wildstein had resigned.

And the unredacted messages confirm that Wildstein was on site during the lane closures in September with a Port Authority police officer, Chip Michaels, who along with his brother Jeff have family ties to Christie.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed has said in the past that "the governor has never had any conversations with either Jeff or Chip Michaels on this topic."

Wildstein and Kelly -- who no longer work for Christie -- were the same two aides who exchanged text messages, also last August, agreeing that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," a town that sits at the foot of the George Washington Bridge.

Two of the three access lanes to the bridge were closed for nearly a week in September, causing massive gridlock in the North Jersey town.

Suggestions the tie-ups were orchestrated to punish Fort Lee's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection has mushroomed into a scandal that has called into question Christie's forceful governing style and clouded any potential prospects of a 2016 Republican presidential bid.

Christie has denied any knowledge of the traffic mess until after it ended and only after it appeared in media reports.

He also denies knowing of any political mischief involving staffers or appointees at the Port Authority, which oversees bridge operations.

On a radio program on Wednesday night, Christie defended his handling of the matter before it made national headlines in January and said he would not let the scandal distract him from his "real job."

The new documents were released by a state legislative committee investigating the matter.

They were among documents Wildstein handed over in January, but they have been unredacted to reveal certain details, such as the joke about the rabbi.

Wildstein resigned in December, after claiming the George Washington Bridge traffic jams were caused by a study that was considered improper by his superiors at the Port Authority.

Kelly was fired in January.

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