WASHINGTON -- Emails released Friday by the New Jersey Assembly underscore the dangerous situation New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) aides created by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, with the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey worrying that people may have died.
In an email to subordinates the morning of Sept. 13 -- several days into the lane closures -- Patrick Foye, Port Authority executive director, said he believed traffic congestion may have hindered first responders. "This hasty and ill-advised decision has resulted in delays to emergency vehicles," he wrote. "I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital-or hospice-bound patient delayed."
The lane closings did delay emergency personnel from responding to four incidents, including a 91-year-old suffering cardiac arrest, who later died.
The closures were ordered by then-Port Authority official David Wildstein, an appointee of Christie's. The Port Authority, which operates the bridge, is run by both New York and New Jersey. Foye is an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Neither Wildstein nor his boss, Bill Baroni, who has also since resigned, ever notified Foye that they would be closing two of the three bridge access lanes in Fort Lee on Sept. 9.
In his Sept. 13 email, sent at 7:44 a.m., Foye said he was ordering the lanes immediately reopened.
While Christie and his administration originally maintained that the closures were due to a traffic study, emails released this week by the New Jersey state Assembly, obtained through a subpoena, show that it was actually a scheme that involved Christie's deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and his top political adviser, Bill Stepien. Christie has since cut ties with both.
The emails suggest the closings were political payback, possibly over Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's (D) refusal to endorse the heavily favored Christie for governor in November.
Days into the traffic bottleneck, Foye seethed. "To be clear," he wrote in his email, "I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for; I intend to learn how PA process was wrongfully subverted and the public interest damaged to say nothing of the credibility of this agency."
Foye also wrote: "I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal law and the laws of both States."
The office of the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey announced it was launching an investigation into whether the closures were criminal.
Before the lane shutdown, some Port Authority officials questioned its purpose. Gerard Quelch, who headed the authority's planning and operations, wrote colleagues: "A single toll lane operation invites potential disaster...It seems like we are punishing all for the sake of a few. Very confused."
While the toll closures would cause concern within the ranks of the Port Authority and anger Fort Lee officials, Wildstein wanted to watch his handiwork up close. In an email the day before the closures, he wrote to a subordinate: "Will be at bridge early Monday am to view new lane test."
Soon after Foye sent his email, Baroni forwarded the message to David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority -- a Christie appointee. He attached a note: "General, can I call you on this now?"
Samson has denied any prior knowledge or involvement in the lane closures.
In a subsequent email on the morning of Sept. 13, Baroni wrote Foye directly that he was on his way into the office and wanted to discuss the controversy further. Then he offered what appears to be a warning to his superior: "There can be no public discourse."
Foye wasn't having it. He replied: "Bill that's precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse on this."
This article has been updated to include additional emails.