In the months after Bridgegate, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he and his office knew nothing about the fallout from the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that engulfed the bi-state Port Authority in scandal. As it turns out, this was not entirely true.
When asked about the scandal for the first time, three months after it broke, Cuomo told reporters, “I don’t know anything more than basically what has been in the newspaper, because it was basically a New Jersey issue.” But newly released records, obtained by WNYC through a Freedom of Information request, show that Cuomo and his top aides were more intimately and immediately involved in responding to the lane closures than they had previously suggested.
Drawing from email and text message correspondence between staffers in Cuomo’s office and those in New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s office, WNYC’s Andrea Bernstein has established a timeline of immediate aftermath of the lane closures:
The first indication that high-level Cuomo administration officials knew about the lane closures came on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013.
Pat Foye, the Cuomo-appointed executive director of the Port Authority, had ordered the lanes reopened immediately. He fired off an email that strayed sharply from his usual bureaucracy-speak. “I am appalled by the lack of process,” Foye wrote, adding the closures violated federal and state laws.
Foye forwarded the email to Cuomo right-hand man Howard Glaser, then the director of state operations, who was meeting with the governor at the time, according to Cuomo’s schedule.
“Well done,” Glaser wrote back.
The next day, Foye was urgently making asking the Port Authority staffer in charge of the George Washington Bridge:
“anything else on Wildstein and Baroni”?
“2nd floor request,” Foye wrote. “Need to know ASAP.”
“Second floor” is Albany speak for the part of the state capitol where Cuomo and his top aides have their offices.
David Wildstein and Bill Baroni were Christie’s two top appointees at the Port Authority. Together, they developed the agency’s official statement on the closures—that the Port Authority “has conducted a week of study at the GWB of traffic safety patterns.” Wildstein has pleaded guilty to several felony counts in the scandal, and Baroni faces trial in September.
That Cuomo’s claim that he didn’t know anything more about the cover-up than anyone else turned out to be bogus is hardly surprising: The Port Authority is a multi-billion-dollar bi-state agency embroiled in a scandal centered on the world’s busiest bi-state bridge. But if Cuomo (or his office) knew the coverup was happening, investigators may interpret the fact that they didn’t blow the whistle as a de facto act of helping to keep things quiet—to say nothing of the fact that it would appear Cuomo’s aides coordinated with Christie’s to make sure everyone was telling the same story.
(Of course, while Cuomo’s assertion was bizarre on its face, it was not as bizarre as the Christie spokesman’s early claim that “the governor of the state of New Jersey does not involve himself in traffic studies.”)
Last week, court filings confirmed earlier allegations that Governor Christie had deleted 12 text messages between himself and an aide about the Bridgegate investigation, sent during Port Authority director Pat Foye’s testimony before the New Jersey state assembly, and the cell phone has since gone missing. Christie claims the text messages—which the aide also deleted—were “of no moment or no import.”