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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts during a news conference in Trenton January 9, 2014. Christie on Thursday fired a top aide at the center of a brewing scandal that public officials orchestrated a massive traffic snarl on the busy George Washingto
New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie was told in December that senior staff had knowledge of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal before the lanes were closed, according to a lawyer for Bill Stepien, Christie's former top political aide and re-election campaign manager. Stepien is one of the two staffers Christie publicly fired when the extent of the scandal became public on January 8.

Stepien's claim comes as part of his pushback against the Bridgegate report conducted for Christie's office by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. If true—and Stepien's lawyer says the report itself contains evidence that it is true—it would dramatically undercut Christie's narrative about how he became aware of his staff's involvement in the scandal.

According to Christie, the first time he became aware that his staff had prior knowledge of the lane closures was on January 8 when former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly's infamous "Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee" e-mail became public. Before the release of that email, Christie had said neither he nor anybody on his staff had any prior knowledge of the lane closures.

Stepien's claim, if accurate, would upend Christie's assertion. Continue reading for the details on what exactly it is that he's saying he told Christie.

On December 13, 2013, Christie held a press conference at which he said Stepien had "assured" him that he had no prior knowledge of the lane closures (p. 101). However, according to Stepien's lawyer, that's not true:

Mr. Stepien advised Governor Christie on December 12, 2013, that he (Mr. Stepien) did have prior knowledge of the lane realignment.
What's particularly interesting about this claim is that Stepien's lawyer cites the report prepared for Christie's office as evidence for the claim. For example, this passage (p. 3) supports Stepien's claim to have had prior knowledge:
Among his political friends, Wildstein first approached Stepien about this idea to realign the Fort Lee toll lanes. Stepien, who was no longer a State employee at the time, sidestepped the question, telling Wildstein he would have to go to “Trenton.”
And this (p. 94):
The Governor asked Stepien to meet with him after the breakfast to discuss a few issues, and they met in the dining room following breakfast. During that meeting, Governor Christie asked Stepien what, if anything, he knew about the lane realignment. Stepien denied having any involvement in the lane realignment decision or its implementation. Rather, Stepien told the Governor that Wildstein would come to him with “50 crazy ideas a week,” and that Stepien would remind Wildstein that Stepien was not in the Governor’s Office anymore, so Wildstein would have to run his ideas through the normal channels at the Governor’s Office.
According to Stepien's lawyers, it was at that meeting that Stepien informed Christie he had known about the planned lane closures. They say that the "50 crazy ideas a week" line is an "oblique" acknowledgment by the report's authors that Stepien did inform Christie. However, the report also says that Christie did not become aware of prior knowledge by his staff until January 8, so if that passage was indeed an oblique acknowledgment, it was unintentional.

Stepien's lawyers also cite this passage (p. 104) of top Christie aide Michael DuHaime referencing Stepien's prior knowledge:

DuHaime considered the newly disclosed emails to be consistent with what Stepien had told him earlier: that Stepien had sidestepped the traffic study issue when Wildstein first mentioned it. When DuHaime later met with Stepien, DuHaime communicated the gravity of the situation. Stepien reiterated to DuHaime what he had previously told him: he had not been involved in the decision to realign the lanes.
The previous discussion between Stepien and DuHaime occurred before the December 13, 2013, press conference at which Christie declared that his staff had no prior knowledge of or involvement in the lane closures. As with the "oblique acknowledgment," this doesn't conclusively prove that Stepien's claim is accurate, but it is consistent with his claim.

Also intriguing is that Christie went out of his way during his January 9, 2014, press conference to repeat his claim that Stepien had denied any prior knowledge of the scandal, but that he nonetheless had fired Stepien because of Stepien's conduct after the lane closures took place.

I had earlier conversations with Bill Stepien where, as I expressed to you at the time, that Bill told me he knew absolutely nothing about this. So -- you know, and certainly the emails yesterday, and emails involving Bill Stepien were all after -- well after the fact. So -- but that's not the basis upon which I made my decision on Bill, Matt (sp). My decision on Bill was made based on the fact of the tone, the tenor and the conduct that was evidenced in those emails. I lost confidence in his judgement. And that's why I made the decision I made as to -- as to Bill.
It wasn't obvious at the time, but in hindsight, you can see how Christie had a tricky balancing act there if he knew that Stepien had been aware of the scheme: To explain why he fired someone for a scandal without accusing the person of having any prior knowledge of the scandal. In many respects, it doesn't pass the smell test, because if Christie believes that being flippant about the lane closures is a firing offense, then he should fire himself for having joked about it in December. But if the real reason Christie was firing Stepien was because Stepien had prior knowledge of it, Christie couldn't say that—because saying that would demonstrate that Christie knew more about what actually happened than he was willing to publicly admit.

Ultimately, neither Stepien's lawyer's claims nor the text of Christie's report proves what really happened. Both sides agree that David Wildstein approached Stepien about the idea for the lane closures and that Stepien had referred Wildstein to Trenton. Both sides agree that one of Christie's top political aides knew that Stepien claimed Wildstein had pushed the idea of the lane closures. And both sides agree that Stepien met with Christie and told him that Wildstein frequently pitched ideas that Stepien would sidestep. The question is whether Stepien said one of those ideas was the lane closure scandal. If so, Christie's entire narrative is upside down.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Thu May 15, 2014 at 11:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by Christie Watch and New Jersey Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Freudian slip? lol (12+ / 0-)
    New Jersey Gov. Christ Christie
    He's not Jesus. No matter how much talk radio tries to spin him as a savior.  lol

    Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

    by Dirtandiron on Thu May 15, 2014 at 11:15:43 AM PDT

  •  Thar he blows! (6+ / 0-)

    Rush — the quivering rage heap who is apparently desperately trying to extinguish any remaining molecule of humanity that might still reside in the Chernobyl-esque Superfund cleanup site that was his soul. -- Jon Stewart

    by Its the Supreme Court Stupid on Thu May 15, 2014 at 11:19:38 AM PDT

  •  This just too delicious. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, anna shane, Remediator

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Thu May 15, 2014 at 11:20:55 AM PDT

  •  Chris Christie Won't Go Down Without (5+ / 0-)

    trying to LIE his way out of it.

    (He already spent $1 Million of taxpayers' money "exonerating himself with the help of his favorite LIE (pronounced "law) firm.).

  •  Know what this description of Wildstein by Stepien (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Shawn87, anna shane

    reminds me of, a certain '70s White House operative:

    (from Wikipedia)

    At CRP [the Committee to reelect the President], Liddy concocted several plots in early 1972, collectively known under the title "Operation Gemstone". Some of these were far-fetched, intended to embarrass the Democratic opposition. These included kidnapping anti-war protest organizers and transporting them to Mexico during the Republican National Convention (which at the time was planned for San Diego), as well as luring mid-level Democratic campaign officials to a house boat in Baltimore, where they would be secretly photographed in compromising positions with prostitutes. Most of Liddy's ideas were rejected by Attorney General John N. Mitchell, but a few were given the go-ahead by Nixon Administration officials, including the 1971 break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in Los Angeles. Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. At some point, Liddy was instructed to break into the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Complex.
    •  Agh! Why can't you edit posts on DailyKos. This (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Shawn87, anna shane

      should read: Know what this description of Wildstein by Stepien reminds me of

      Stepien told the Governor that Wildstein would come to him with “50 crazy ideas a week,” and that Stepien would remind Wildstein that Stepien was not in the Governor’s Office anymore, so Wildstein would have to run his ideas through the normal channels at the Governor’s Office.
      , a certain '70s White House operative:
      At CRP [the Committee to reelect the President], Liddy concocted several plots in early 1972, collectively known under the title "Operation Gemstone". Some of these were far-fetched, intended to embarrass the Democratic opposition. These included kidnapping anti-war protest organizers and transporting them to Mexico during the Republican National Convention (which at the time was planned for San Diego), as well as luring mid-level Democratic campaign officials to a house boat in Baltimore, where they would be secretly photographed in compromising positions with prostitutes. Most of Liddy's ideas were rejected by Attorney General John N. Mitchell, but a few were given the go-ahead by Nixon Administration officials, including the 1971 break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office in Los Angeles. Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. At some point, Liddy was instructed to break into the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Complex.
  •  drip, drip, drip (6+ / 0-)

    not sure how Christie politically survives all this?  not just Bridgegate which appears to have enough punch by itself.  But also Zimmer's accusation of using Sandy aide to extort favors, downgrading of NJ bond ratings, failure to build a vital commuter tunnel to NYC, and now allegations of pay to play involving Republican candidate for governor in Mass and the NJ pension fund.  How does Christie still have a 50% + approval rating in NJ still?  This should also take out Baker fro Mass governor.  Coakley hopefully won't screw this campaign up like she did before.

  •  Thanks Jed (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anna shane

    I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

    by a2nite on Thu May 15, 2014 at 12:11:11 PM PDT

    •  do you see the implication? (0+ / 0-)

      this means that Christie's plan to keep Stepien his firewall just fell down. Mastro had given Stepien cover in that report, for just pretending he hadn't told Christie anything he got to have his lawyers paid, and a job, and he'd survive.

      And Stepien kept his trap shut, and all of a sudden no more? That means he knows that there are others who have the goods on Christie, I'd guess Samson, and he needs to jump to the front of the immunity line.  

      plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

      by anna shane on Thu May 15, 2014 at 02:30:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Repub'd to NJ Kossacks (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    anna shane

    I see someone already repub'd to Christie Watch.  I really hope one of these scandals takes the Christie administration down.  

    Tangentially - Any NJers reading this that are interested in joining the New Jersey Kossacks group, let me know.  And especially let me know if you're interested in attending the First NJ Meetup on June 14th (details at the link).

    Miss Aji? She blogs here now.
    I’m a feminist because the message is still "don’t get raped" not "don’t rape."

    by Avilyn on Thu May 15, 2014 at 12:27:23 PM PDT

  •  I wish we would stop using that pic (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron

    It makes him look contrite and sorry.....

    He is a mean and vindictive person.

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. Frank Zappa

    by Da Rock on Thu May 15, 2014 at 12:29:29 PM PDT

    •  it's the same picture (0+ / 0-)

      he always looks sincere and misunderstood.  He was born sincere and misunderstood.  Oh wait, there is angry at nuns, and pointing at nuns, that's another Christie look.

      Wait, we need a diary of all Christie's expressions.  There are maybe three. Angry, sad and hungry?

      plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

      by anna shane on Thu May 15, 2014 at 02:33:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  One big takeaway that is getting overlooked is (4+ / 0-)

    WHY was someone in the Port Authority (Wildstein) going to Stepien who was Christie staff with "50 crazy ideas" a week? Doesn't the Port Authority have a separate mandate and role that is largely removed from the daily functions of government in the Christie administration?

    So, why would any legitimate traffic study have to be cleared through "Trenton"? To answer my own question - it wouldn't. A real traffic study would have gone through only the Port Authority's own internal procedures, processes and notifications, which we know this one didn't.

    What were the 49 other crazy ideas for that week? What about all the other weeks. Was this the only crazy Wildstein idea that was ever implemented?

    There are a lot more shoes to drop, I would think.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Thu May 15, 2014 at 12:45:00 PM PDT

    •  oh, good point (0+ / 0-)

      he was told to take the ideas to Stepien, not to Christie directly?  

      But, why would Wildstein think up lane closures?  Could be he was asked to solve a problem, by, let's say, his PA other boss Samson, who wanted the Ft. Lee project to be worth less shortly before a finalization of financing meeting?   And that it was to be permanent?  As long as no one noticed. And then that bad man Foley, may he testify in peace, shut it down and called it criminal, and then Foley is  playing in traffic and Samson's gonna git him?  

      plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

      by anna shane on Thu May 15, 2014 at 02:37:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This correlates with Drewniak letting CC know (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dirtandiron, Remediator

    About the lane closures in Dec before his press conference.  That was in Drewniak's testimony on Tues

    I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

    by a2nite on Thu May 15, 2014 at 01:16:07 PM PDT

  •  The political retribution theory is wrong (6+ / 0-)

    It's not that Christie was trying to get even with the Fort Lee Mayor because of a political endorsement.  The reason the bridge lanes were closed was to poison the financial deal the Mayor was part of for the property adjacent to the toll plaza.  Christie and Samson were not part of that deal and they wanted to kill it so their deal could proceed.  It's greed, pure and simple.  That makes much more sense than some silly political endorsement.  Christie may have a huge ego that could use the stroking the mayor would have provided, but greed is a far bigger motivator for both Christie and Samson.  
    If money is involved in any scandal, that's the trail to follow.

  •  Gubenor not tell troof. Bad bad gubenor. /nt (0+ / 0-)

    "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" (Yeats)

    by Remediator on Thu May 15, 2014 at 04:51:02 PM PDT

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