George Washington Bridge scandal: Cops ordered not to reopen lanes

Traffic drives over the George Washington Bridge on August 16, 2011 in New York City.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As motorists in Fort Lee, New Jersey were snarled in traffic last September, victims of a political scheme to shut down access lanes in the township leading to the George Washington Bridge, police officers witnessing the crushing traffic jam made repeated suggestions to re-open the closed lanes and relieve the congestion.

They were told in no uncertain terms to stop talking about it, according to a summary of accounts the police officers provided to investigators that was obtained by the Bergen Record, the paper that first broke the story about the lane closures in January.

"Shut up," replied one police supervisor with the Port Authority, which oversees the bridge, after an officer warned that the traffic jam was creating "hazardous conditions," according to one account.

Several other officers described the traffic jam as "horrible" and "horrific" over the radio. At least one urged a reconsideration of the lane closures, and he was later upbraided by a supervisor for that "inappropriate" description, according to another account.

The order to close the lanes was implemented on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, ahead of morning rush hour. The instructions were handed down by Port Authority police Lt. Thomas "Chip" Michaels, who grew up with Gov. Chris Christie, R-New Jersey, in Livingston, New Jersey. According to the Record, Michaels explicitly instructed his officers not to touch the traffic cones closing off several access lanes.

Christie, a Republican, was ensnared in the scandal after emails revealed that several of his aides and his appointed head of the Port Authority, David Wildstein, conspired to shut down the traffic lanes to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for declining to endorse the governor's 2013 reelection bid.

Later that morning, several officers saw Wildstein, who also grew up with Christie, driving around the township with Michaels, surveying the messy result of the lane closures, according to the accounts. Several officers also reported hearing gossip in a break room about the closures being the result of a political dispute between Christie and Sokolich.

When the scandal broke in January, Christie promptly fired the aides responsible for the scheme, and he's has maintained that he had no prior knowledge of the lane closures. An internal investigation commissioned by a law firm hired by Christie substantiated his lack of involvement, though several independent probes remain ongoing.

New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic co-chair of a legislative panel investigating the incident, said the latest revelation casts suspicion on law enforcement officials, potentially opening a new front in the inquiry.

"It was bad enough that it was the Port Authority and people close to the governor, but now you've got the people who are responsible for keeping us safe," she said, according to the Record. "Any time you have law enforcement involved in a political operation, that's very troubling."