UPDATE II - The Times has already changed its reporting on this. Via Time Magazine's Michael Scherer, a significant shift:
NYTimes changes online lead, w/o correction. Strikes line that said Wildstein has evidence to prove Christie knew http://t.co/BkOtIQMVDi— michaelscherer (@michaelscherer) January 31, 2014
If Wildstein has evidence the governor knew about the lane closures, why didn't he turn it over in response to the NJ Leg subpoena?— Josh Barro (@jbarro) January 31, 2014
UPDATE III - Team Christie responds, fully standing by the governor's timeline:
“Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along - 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. As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions.”
If Wildstein can definitively disprove any part of that tick-tock, Christie's sunk. If not, this looks like another political drive-by, with the New York Times at the wheel. Christie's story hasn't changed:
Christie, 12/13: "The first I ever heard about the issue was when it was reported in the press, which I think was in the aftermath..."— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) January 31, 2014
Re: previous tweet...So that is, in fact, what Christie's been saying all along. Does Wildstein have evidence to contradict?— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) January 31, 2014
The Times' reporting, however, has. An extraordinary quote:
NYT "We've made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more."— Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) January 31, 2014
Depending on what the evidence actually looks like -- and more on that caveat in a moment -- a new report from the New York Times could shatter Chris Christie's credibility. I've done a lot of work on the unsupported Hoboken allegations, but this new 'revelation' brings us back to the Fort Lee bridge closures scandal. As I wrote at the time, "if he's not telling the truth...he'll look like a pathological liar, and he can kiss any higher ambitions goodbye." Is this a political death blow?
In a letter released by his lawyer, the official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.
The first bolded sentence isn't news. We already knew the decision to execute politically-motivated lane closures came down from Christie administration officials, two of whom have been fired. It's the second bit that's most relevant. Here is what Christie said during his January 9th press conference:
"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. Senator Barnoni testified that it was a traffic study...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."
Two critical questions: (1) What is the exact nature of the evidence Wildstein says he has that ties Christie to "having knowledge of the lane closures" at the time? (2) Was Christie aware of the political nature of the retaliatory closures, or was he merely aware that a "traffic study" was underway? On the former point, if there's proof that Christie had explicit, contemporaneous knowledge that the lanes were being shut down, that utterly undermines his assertion that he didn't know about any of this until the controversy first boiled to the surface. If, on the other hand, the evidence is something along the lines of a memo or briefing that listed a bunch of state projects happening at the time, that doesn't really contradict the governor's account. Also, there's a big difference between Christie knowing about something he thought was a traffic study, as opposed to him knowing what was actually going on. Let's see the evidence Wildstein's attorney is alluding to. If it amounts to Christie being told that a number of projects (including a traffic study involving lane closures) were underway, that's pretty thin gruel. If, however, it points to Christie definitely being aware of these lane closures last fall -- regardless of whether he thought it was just a study -- that will deal a significant blow to Christie's honesty. And if it demonstrates that Christie was in on the whole thing, his reputation will obviously suffer irrevocable damage. Details, please.
UPDATE - Even some MSM reporters are sounding skeptical about whether the contents of this lawyer's letter align with the Times' lead assertion. We'll see.
Not clear to me letter backs up the lead of NY Times story. Letter does not say Wildstein has evidence to prove Christie knew of closing.— michaelscherer (@michaelscherer) January 31, 2014
Wildstein’s got two possible reasons to lie. One, obviously, is revenge on Christie. Wildstein resigned in early December, no doubt under pressure from the governor’s office. Maybe he has an axe to grind now, if only because he assumed Christie would go to bat for an old friend like him. The other reason is immunity: He’s spent the last two weeks whispering to people that he’s willing to talk if he’s spared the threat of prosecution. The U.S. Attorney hasn’t taken the bait yet. This is an obvious pot-sweetener.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography