A veteran aide to New Jersey Gov. Christie told a state legislative panel on Tuesday that the embattled governor knew about a plot to shut down three out of four lanes of the George Washington Bridge lanes in September 2013, while the shutdown was happening.
The press secretary, Michael Drewniak, testified that he learned about the Republican governor’s contemporaneous knowledge of the scandalous traffic closure during a steak dinner conversation on Dec. 4, 2013, according to a report from the Daily Mail.
Drewniak’s dinner partner was David Wildstein, a since-resigned Port Authority official who was making $150,000 per year when the scandal occurred. According to Drewniak, Wildstein indicated during the dinner that he had informed Christie about the bridge closures on Sept. 11, 2013.
Christie and Wildstein almost certainly had discussions that day. Photographs show that they attended a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York City together.
Wildstein and other New Jersey bureaucrats have described the lane closures as a “traffic study.” Drewniak continued to use that verbiage in his testimony.
Drewniak told New Jersey lawmakers during the hours-long hearing that Wildstein had personally told him, “I told the governor about the traffic study.”
The close confidant of the governor then testified that Christie said in a later meeting that he didn’t have any idea what “traffic study” Wildstein was talking about.
“Christie ‘was – um – incredulous,” Drewniak told legislators, “and said something to the effect, like a rhetorical remark: ‘What? He tells me something about a traffic study and I’m supposed to know what he’s talking about?’ Words to that effect.”
The press secretary was forceful in his contention that Wildstein had said that he, Wildstein, alone “created this whole idea for a traffic study.”
Drewniak also attempted to distance himself from the scandal.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this strange, unnecessary and idiotic episode,” Drewniak said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “Nor did I play any role in any actual or perceived cover-up.”
The George Washington Bridge lane closures happened from Sept. 9 through Sept. 13, 2013. Three of four lanes coming from the town of Fort Lee in the direction of the bridge’s toll booths were closed, causing a huge traffic jam.
Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, had declined to endorse Christie in his 2013 re-election bid. Despite this coveted endorsement, Christie won the election handily over his Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono, by a tally of 60.3 percent to 38.2 percent.
Subpoenaed emails between Wildstein and former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly suggest that the lane closures were a form of political payback scheme designed to punish Sokolich.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Kelly.
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.