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CNN exclusive: Port Authority job created for Christie ally, source says

By Steve Kastenbaum and Chris Frates, CNN
updated 7:58 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
  • David Wildstein was introduced to Port Authority as good friend of Gov. Chris Christie
  • Wildstein was named to executive level post in agency soon after
  • Christie has characterized Wildstein as someone he barely knew

(CNN) -- Give him a position at the top of the agency; he's a good friend of the governor.

That's how David Wildstein was introduced to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010, according to a former employee with extensive knowledge of the agency's hiring practices.

Soon after, Wildstein was named the director of Interstate Capital Projects, a title that previously had not existed at the bi-state agency, setting in motion a career that would eventually place the former political blogger at the center of the lane closures controversy at the George Washington Bridge.

Wildstein catapulted into the national spotlight with his response to the infamous e-mail from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's aide: "Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee," Bridget Kelly wrote. Wildstein responded, "Got it."

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A former Port Authority employee told CNN that agency officials were told in 2010 they had to find a place for WIldstein at the executive level and the directive was coming from Christie's office. Soon after, the position was created specifically for WIldstein. When Wildstein started, Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, Christie's top appointee at the agency, introduced him to people as a good friend of the governor.

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CNN examined documents from the Port Authority showing the names, titles and salaries of nearly 7,000 employees. The reports show that prior to Christie's first term in office there were four people working in the deputy executive director's office, the highest position on the New Jersey side of the agency. When Christie came into office the number increased to six. The documents show that Wildstein's position was created in May 2010.

Port Authority payroll records from 2012

Port Authority payroll records from 2009

Sources, including several current and former employees at various levels of the Port Authority who did not want their names used, told CNN it was assumed that when David Wildstein was involved in any discussions at the agency, the information was being passed back to Christie's office.

Wildstein's role included scrutinizing the agency's business for the governor and that's why he was given such a broad title, sources said. Those current and former employees said people were careful about what they said when Wildstein was in the room, always assuming it would get back to Christie.

Christie spokesman Colin Reed said the idea that Wildstein was the governor's eyes and ears is "inaccurate" and "has been mischaracterized by the media."

"As the governor made clear last week, David Wildstein is not a childhood friend and his interactions with him over the last four years have been limited. Last month, he appointed a new leader at the Port Authority with a proven record of rooting out corruption and reforming government agencies to help lead the agency," Reed said.

Neither Baroni nor Wildstein responded to requests for comment from CNN.

Wildstein personally directed the infamous lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September. The revelations come in new Port Authority documents released on Thursday by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee. They paint a picture of a man who went rogue, closing lanes without following proper procedures, despite warnings of traffic backups and safety risks. The governor is at the center of multiple investigations over whether the closure was political retaliation for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee's failure to endorse Christie in his re-election campaign.

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Christie distanced himself from Wildstein after the story broke. While he and Wildstein attended the same high school, Christie said, "David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school."

High school acquaintances contacted by CNN backed up the governor. Christie was on Livingston High School's baseball team. Wildstein was the team's statistician. The former coach of the team, Tony Hope, said the two could not have been more different.

"Nobody could ever say a bad thing about Chris, they loved him. David was the extreme opposite," Hope said. "David was very quiet, also extremely intelligent, but he didn't have great social skills ... he kept to himself, a nice individual but never really related to his peers."

Wildstein had a different reputation throughout the Port Authority. Several sources said he would sometimes yell and threaten to have employees fired when they repeatedly contradicted him or pushed back on his initiatives.

The Newark Star Ledger reported in February 2012 that critics accused Christie of turning the Port Authority into a patronage mill. Citing a document titled "NY/NJ Executive Referrals" the newspaper showed there were 35 new Port Authority hires directed by Christie during his first year in office. That's more than the last four governors combined, according to the paper.

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