RENTON, N.J. — The latest documents released by a New Jersey legislative committee looking into a political payback scandal surrounding Gov. Chris Christie show two figures at the heart of the case making running jokes about the idea of creating traffic jams as a way to strike at enemies.
The documents do not provide any new evidence about how deep into the plot Christie or his top staffers may have been, though they do reinforce the idea that some of the people involved were cavalier about what they were doing.
“It seems like they really felt comfortable in talking about how they could utilize their authority to get back at people, which is disturbing,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who co-chairs the legislative panel.
Three weeks before the massive tie-ups near the George Washington Bridge, the two Christie-connected officials exchanged text messages about a rabbi who had bothered them. Since 2010, the rabbi has been a chaplain for the agency that runs the bridge, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Bridget Kelly, then an aide to Christie, was apparently joking when she sent an Aug. 19 text saying: “We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?”
David Wildstein, who was Christie’s No. 2 man at the Port Authority, responded: “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed.” He appeared to be joking, although the Port Authority does run the major New York City-area airports, as well.
“Perfect,” Kelly wrote.
The exchange came six days after Kelly’s previously disclosed message to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Partially unredacted emails were made public Thursday by the legislative committee looking into political retribution in Christie’s administration.
Christie has maintained that he was not involved in the closure or a cover-up and had no knowledge of the scheme before it happened.
Wildstein made the documents available to the committee. Like documents previously submitted to the committee by others, some passages of messages are blacked out.
In a statement, Wisniewski and committee co-chairwoman Sen. Loretta Weinberg said they reviewed the full documents and agreed it was appropriate to leave some sections secret because “the material was outside of the subject matter or date range requested” in subpoenas.
Unlike the documents released previously, there are notes indicating who sent and received more of the messages — something that clears up some of the minor mysteries of the scandal, which is also being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office.
For instance, it’s now clear that it was Kelly who texted, apparently jokingly, about feeling “badly about the kids” who were stuck in the traffic jams while on their way to school. And that it was Wildstein who responded that “they are the children of Buono voters,” referring to Barbara Buono, Christie’s Democratic challenger in last year’s gubernatorial election.
Also, it’s now clear that the previously unidentified person who texted Wildstein asking, “Who does he think he is, Capt. America?” was Bill Stepien, who was the Republican governor’s two-time campaign manager. The documents, however, do not clarify whom Stepien was referring to.
Christie fired Kelly last month and cut ties with Stepien after the first batch of documents provided by Wildstein were made public. By then, Wildstein had already stepped down from his job at the Port Authority.
The rabbi referred to in the one exchange was not mentioned by name, though Wildstein began the conversation by texting Kelly a photo of a man who appears to be Mendy Carlebach posing with House Speaker John Boehner.
Carlebach, a member of the state’s Homeland Security Interfaith Advisory Council and a chaplain at the 2004 and 2008 Republican National Conventions, said in a statement Thursday evening that he has worked with governors and their administrations.
But “My work has always been apolitical and I have no knowledge nor understanding of why my name was mentioned in these exchanges,” he said.