By Angela Delli Santi and Geoff Mulvihill
The Associated Press
TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie made inaccurate statements during a news conference about the lane closures near the George Washington Bridge, according to a letter released Friday by a lawyer for a former Christie loyalist who ordered the closures and resigned amid the ensuing scandal that has engulfed the New Jersey governor’s administration.
In the letter, David Wildstein’s lawyer said his client “contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”
Attorney Alan Zegas’ letter also said evidence exists suggesting the governor knew about the closures as they happened in September. The letter does not say what the evidence is and Zegas did not return calls to The Associated Press.
The Republican governor’s office said the letter’s key allegation — that Christie knew about the closures as they happened — does not contradict the governor’s statements.
“He had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with,” Christie’s office said in a statement. “As he said in his Jan. 9 press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of Jan. 8.”
At the nearly two-hour news conference on Jan. 9, Christie gave responses open to interpretation about when he first learned about the closings while saying flatly he knew nothing about an apparently political motive until months later.
When asked if he understood why people would have a hard time believing “you didn’t know about this thing,” he responded:
“I don’t know what else to say except to tell them that I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over.”
“And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study,” he said.
In another instance, asked if he had authorized the retribution, Christie said: “Oh, absolutely not. No. And I knew nothing about this. And until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, but even then I was told this was a traffic study.”
Christie’s account that he learned of the matter from newspapers mirrored his statement at a news conference almost a month earlier.
On Friday night, Christie appeared at a birthday party for radio personality Howard Stern, but did not take questions after introducing a performance by Jon Bon Jovi.
Zegas’ letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requests that the agency pay his legal bills. Wildstein was Christie’s No. 2 man at the Port Authority, the agency that runs the bridge, before resigning in December.
The letter is unclear about whether Wildstein is suggesting he has material that has not been made public previously or whether he is referring to information that has been reported in recent weeks.
Christie had adamantly denied staff members were involved until private emails that were subpoenaed and released showed otherwise. Besides Wildstein, three others connected to Christie have been fired or resigned.
New Jersey legislators are investigating whether Christie aides engineered the lane closures in the community of Fort Lee to send a message to the town’s Democratic mayor. The U.S. Attorney’s office is also investigating. Twenty subpoenas for documents and correspondence related to the lane closings are due to be returned to the legislative panel on Monday.
No subpoenas target Christie himself, a possible 2016 presidential candidate who has just begun a yearlong chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.
Some Democrats pounced on Friday’s letter. Milly Silva, a union executive who ran for lieutenant governor last year issued a statement saying, “If these allegations are proven, it raises serious questions about how New Jersey can continue to move forward under Gov. Christie’s leadership.”
Wildstein, who attended Livingston High School with Christie, appeared under subpoena before a legislative committee on the same day as Christie’s news conference. But he refused to answer any questions from lawmakers about the lane closures.
He even refused to say whether he had previously worked at the Port Authority, though just weeks earlier, he publicly resigned from his post there.
Wildstein, who previously was a political blogger, said Zegas advised him to remain silent for fear of being prosecuted. Zegas has said Wildstein would be willing to talk if granted immunity from criminal investigators.
The committee found him to be in contempt and referred the case to a prosecutor.
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