Governor Chris Christie is hitting back hard at the latest revelations regarding the scandal over the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge.
In an email sent to supporters, he attacked the New York Times for what he called “sloppy reporting” about the charge made by his former friend and Port Authority appointee David Wildstein — the charge being that Christie knew about the lane closings while they were happening. This contradicts Christie’s story told at the press conference on January 9 that he was unaware of the lane closings until after they had been re-opened.
Christie also took some shots at Wildstein, a former high school friend and advisor.
The Christie camp begins by criticizing The Times for its initial characterization of the Wildstein letter: “A media firestorm was set off by sloppy reporting from the New York Times and their suggestion that there was actually ‘evidence’ when it was a letter alleging that ‘evidence exists.’”
The Times’ original story said that Wildstein claimed “he had the evidence to prove it,” while later versions stuck to his lawyer’s vaguer “evidence exists” formulation.
In a statement Saturday night, the Times said: “We regularly update web stories for clarity as we did in this case. We do not note changes unless it involves an error.”
Wildstein’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
The email from the governor’s office again distances Christie from Wildstein’s actions: “As he has said repeatedly, Governor Christie had no involvement, knowledge or understanding of the real motives behind David Wildstein’s scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge. … The Governor first learned lanes at the George Washington Bridge were even closed from press accounts after the fact. Even then he was under the belief it was a traffic study. He first learned David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly closed lanes for political purposes when it was reported on January 8th.”
Then, it gets personal. “In David Wildstein’s past, people and newspaper accounts have described him as ‘tumultuous’ and someone who ‘made moves that were not productive,’” the email continues. “David Wildstein has been publicly asking for immunity since the beginning, been held in contempt by the New Jersey legislature for refusing to testify, failed to provide this so-called ‘evidence’ when he was first subpoenaed by the NJ Legislature and is looking for the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.”
The email dips far back into Wildstein’s past to buttress its portrayal of him, even alleging that “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”
Christie praised Wildstein’s tenure when he resigned late last year after being sought for testimony by the Assembly committee investigating the lane closures. Wildstein has long been portrayed as a close friend of Christie’s, and included in the email from the governor’s office is a story from the Bergen Record headlined, “Ex Blogger Is Governor Christie’s Eyes, Ears Inside The Port Authority.”
But during his news conference in January, Christie disputed that the two men have a longtime bond or close personal friendship.
The harsh attacks on Wildstein bring to mind the question of why he appointed such a “deceptive” and “tumultuous” character to the position at the Port Authority in the first place.
Can Wildstein bring Christie down? The Times was very provocative in its original reporting on the letter, implying that Wildstein’s lawyer actually possessed the evidence that would contradict Christie’s statement. But the subsequent change made by the Times editors suggests only that the evidence is out there somewhere and can be found. That’s almost a complete 180 degree re-interpretation and leads us to believe that the Times may have sensationalized the story to create another feeding frenzy by the press — to Christie’s disadvantage.
The “evidence” referred to by Wildstein’s lawyer may or may not exist. It seems hard to believe that Christie would not have examined every scrap of paper and email relating to the lane closures before he went before the press on January 9. He had to know that any contradictions arising from that presser would doom his political career. Unless Wildstein has a recording of a phone call or something equally compelling, the chances are whatever evidence he says he possesses isn’t of the “smoking gun” variety.
But that doesn’t help Christie in trying to tamp down a story that has been reignited by these new allegations. Just as the story was beginning to fade, the Wildstein charges puts Christie right back in the crosshairs of the scalphunters in the press — a very uncomfortable place to be for a presidential candidate.