TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — As thousands of commuters were stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge during lane closures apparently ordered by Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s aides as political payback, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police lieutenant with ties to Christie was eating breakfast with the executive who ordered the closures.
Lt. Thomas Michaels gave David Wildstein a tour of the traffic around Fort Lee on Sept. 9, 2013. But he told lawyers for the legislative panel investigating the scandal that he didn’t discuss anything “substantive concerning the lane closures” with Wildstein while eating breakfast with him that morning beyond Wildstein’s account that it was for a traffic study, according to a summary of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.
Michaels told investigators that Wildstein had called him the week before and asked him what would happen if three lanes were reduced to one, but he said he didn’t have any direct knowledge about why the lanes were changed and that he found out about the plan to change them the night before. Michaels told investigators that Wildstein asked him to monitor traffic conditions and that he texted him with updates.
A lawyer representing Michaels didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts referred to a statement issued earlier this year in which he said Christie never had conversations with Michaels about the bridge, which connects Fort Lee and New York City. Christie, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has called the lane closings “inexplicably stupid” but said he didn’t know about them beforehand.
Michaels and Wildstein both grew up in Livingston with Christie, and Michaels had coached Christie’s son’s hockey team. Michaels’ brother, Jeff, was a campaign adviser for Christie in 2009. He told them he had only occasional interactions with Christie at the hockey rink and didn’t otherwise talk with him.
Police officers on the bridge said they warned superiors about the hazardous conditions created and were told not to talk about it on their radios, according to the summary provided by their lawyer to the legislative panel investigating the scandal.
Attorney Dan Bibb, who works for the police officers’ union, relayed information from 11 officers, including three who said they were told about the traffic change by Michaels and say he told them not to move the traffic cones blocking the lanes.
Bibb told the legislative panel’s investigators that one of the officers, Steve Pisciotta, used his police radio to report hazardous conditions being caused by the severe traffic and was told to “shut up” by Deputy Inspector Darcy Licorish. Bibb said Pisciotta told him that Michaels and a sergeant visited him “to tell him that his radio communication had been inappropriate.”
Licorish told the investigators that he first found out about the lane closures the weekend before and that he attempted to argue against them because of the traffic it would create. His statement to the investigators came 11 days before Bibb’s.
A lawyer representing Licorish didn’t immediately return phone calls seeking comment on Wednesday.
Investigators are looking into who approved closing the lanes in Fort Lee, causing four days of massive traffic jams, apparently to punish its mayor, Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who didn’t support Christie for re-election. The lane closures came weeks after Christie’s then-deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, sent a message to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Wildstein graduated from Livingston High School a year before Christie and was hired in 2010 at the Port Authority by Christie’s top appointee there, deputy executive director Bill Baroni.
In January, Wildstein appeared before the legislative committee investigating the lane closures but declined to answer any questions. Kelly, who was fired in January, also refused to cooperate with the legislative committee.
The Record was the first to report on the document Bibb provided.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report from Mexico City.
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