Image: Chris Christie in Fort Lee to meet Mayor Mark Sokolich.

Chris Christie in Fort Lee to meet Mayor Mark Sokolich. (Spencer Platt / Getty)

Christie, ex-official clash over when governor learned of bridge lane closings

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office denied he knew anything ahead of time about an operation to jam traffic on the George Washington Bridge. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the official who ordered the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge last year clashed Friday over precisely when Christie learned about the controversial incident.

In a letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (.pdf), a lawyer for David Wildstein — the Port Authority official who actually ordered the event — says “evidence exists 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.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, Christie’s office said that rather than call Christie’s behavior into question, the letter “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.”

Christie’s statement goes on to say he denies “Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions,” which primarily have to do with Wildstein’s attempt to force the Port Authority to pay his legal bills.

The main disagreement appears to stem from the sequence of events.

In his statement Friday, Christie said he didn’t know about what’s come to be known as “Bridgegate” beforehand. In his Jan. 9 news conference — the one Wildstein alludes to — he said 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.”

Christie doubled down on that assertion late Friday night. In a statement issued to “clear up any lingering confusion,” a spokesman said, “Governor Christie has said each time he has been asked that he first learned about the closing of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge from press accounts after the instance was over.”

It’s that second contention that Wildstein contradicts in his letter, saying flat-out that Christie knew about the incident as it was jamming traffic between New York and New Jersey from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12.

“Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter says — although it gives no hint of what that evidence might be.

A new allegation claims New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sanctioned a road closure as political payback. NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.

Wildstein’s letter was first reported Friday by The New York Times and subsequently obtained by NBC News.

Christie — who’s considered a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — has repeatedly denied having ordered the closing of two of three local access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., to the bridge, which is one of the busiest in the world. The closing froze traffic for four days — allegedly in retaliation over the mayor’s refusal to endorse him in the 2013 governor’s race.

It’s the latest piece in a puzzle that has been emerging over the past few months of Christie as a swaggering political bully.

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