Why Didn’t Team Christie Hear The Bridgegate Alarms?

Matt Katz | May 14, 2014 | Katz on Christie

Today’s marathon (seven hour!) testimony from a calm, respectful Michael Drewniak, the governor’s colorfully spoken spokesman (and unofficial liaison between the Port Authority and the governor’s office), focused not on the Big Bridgegate Questions (who did this, and why?), but rather on a secondary question: Was there a coverup? 

Drewniak’s testimony, coupled with previous evidence, indicated that several alarm bells sounded for months before the smoking gun “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email was released in January. Drewniak and others in Christie’s camp say that in retrospect, they should have reacted to these alarms and realized that their own people were involved in a plan to close lanes to the busiest bridge in the world.

But Democrats smell something more sinister: That Team Christie was intentionally ignoring the alarm bells because they knew their own people were involved, and they were trying to keep it quiet. Consider these three instances:

Early October: Drewniak went to Christie’s top lawyer, then-counsel Charlie McKenna, with an email obtained by the Wall Street Journal. The email was from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top official at the Port Authority, Patrick Foye, and it said that crimes may have been committed when New Jersey officials closed the bridge lanes.

Early November: Drewniak tells McKenna that David Wildstein, the New Jersey Port Authority official who came up with the idea for the lane closures, said that two other Christie aides were aware of the lane closures: Bill Stepien, the governor’s campaign manager, and Bridget Kelly, his deputy chief of staff. 

Early December: Drewniak tells both Christie and Christie’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, that Wildstein claims that he told the governor himself about the lane closures while they were happening — at a September 11 ceremony at Ground Zero. Christie responded, according to Drewniak: “What, he tells me something about a traffic study, and I’m supposed to know something about it?”

It is unclear what Christie officials did with this information, but there clearly was not much of an investigation.

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, a Democrat, put it succinctly when questioning Drewniak. He wanted to know why Drewniak himself hadn’t tried to contact the governor to get him to do more to investigate this: “We’ve had a few months here where we’ve had angry letters from the mayor of Fort Lee, we’ve had angry emails from Pat Foye saying laws have been broken, we’ve had numerous news articles . . . this topic has come up in a governors’ debate, and this is also subject of a legislative investigation with subpoena power. And this is not enough to elevate any of this to the governor, by text, email or phone?”

Drewniak, Christie and other Christie officials say they simply believed the cover story that this was a traffic study. They had no reason not to trust their own appointees at the Port Authority, they say, and that given the fact that it was an election year, that the Democrats leading the legislative inquiry were highly partisan and that Port Authority officials from New York hated their counterparts in New Jersey, they assumed this was all just so much political ado about nothing.

Tonight, on his “Ask The Governor” show on 101.5 FM, Christie said the problem is reporters and Democrats are now looking at this through the lens of a post-January 8 world — after we saw the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email. The alarm bells only seem like alarm bells now because we are looking at things through what he called a “retrospectroscope.”