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Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey speaking at an event hosted by The McCain Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
The scandal over the September lane closings at the George Washington Bridge took a new turn today, with allegations by David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official and close ally of Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ). Wildstein’s claims, as conveyed in his lawyer’s letter, are vague. When we get down to it, his most specific claim is the following: “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.” Now, that sentence does not allege that Christie ordered the lane closings, nor that he knew that they would be closed beforehand. All it alleges is that Christie knew about the lane closings while they were still happening.

That may not seem like much. But Christie has repeatedly stated the contrary. He has been asserting, over and over again, that he did not know of the lane closings until after they were reopened.

Until Friday night, that is, when his office's response to Wildstein's letter avoids issuing such a denial and subtly shifts the goalpost.

Let's start on December 13th, when Christie said: “It was certainly well after the whole thing was over before I heard about it."

Also on December 13th, he said: "The first I ever heard of the issue was when it was reported in the press, which I think was in the aftermath of the leaking of Mr. Foye's email.” The leaking of that email occurred on October 1st, weeks after the leanes were reopened.

Fast-forward to January 9th: “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.”

John Reitmeyer, a journalist at The Record of Bergen County, tweets that he had specifically asked Christie "if he knew about the traffic nightmare specifically as it was occurring in September." Christie had said he did not.

Fast-forward to Friday night. Hours after Wildstein's allegations were reported, Christie put out the following statement:

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.
Does the statement come out and say that Christie knew of the lane closings while they were happening? No, he certainly does not. But conspicuously absent is any of his past denials that he did. Absent is his insistence that he "first found out about it after it was over." Absent is his suggestion that the moment the story was "reported by the press" was weeks after lanes were reopened.

All of these things have been replaced by the statement that Christie had "no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened."

But that is not what Wildstein’s letter claimed. All Wildstein's letter alleged is that Christie knew during the lane closures—something Christie had been forcefully denying. For Christie’s team to pretend like the allegation in need of rebuttal is that he had "prior" knowledge of the lane closures "before" they occurred is disingenuous and slippery. Christie's statement invented an allegation to respond to—an allegation that Wildstein never made, that is.

That may not be an explicit change of story. But Christie's statement sidesteps denying the one specific thing Wildstein's letter alleges; it avoids repeating that the Governor had no knowledge during the lane closures; and it subtly shifted the question from whether he knew of them while they were occurring to whether he knew before.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 04:30 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos and Christie Investigations.

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