By Jack Gillum
WASHINGTON -- Personal emails at the center of the brewing scandal for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey may have remained secret, had the public and press relied solely on the state's open records law.
Emails disclosed this past week show a top Christie aide asking the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to shut down three lanes on the busy George Washington Bridge, resulting in major backups for days last September. Those emails were leaked to reporters last week, even though one newspaper requested them nearly a month ago, only to be told they didn't exist.
The use of private emails adds Christie, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, to a growing list of administrations that use private email accounts and other digital services to conduct official business. In turn, state and federal officials, regardless of political party, have sidestepped public records laws meant to keep government activities transparent.
The Record of Bergen County, N.J., said it filed an open-records request last month asking for emails related to the Port Authority's decision to close the bridge lanes. The request specifically sought emails between David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed Port Authority official, and employees in the governor's office.
The newspaper received a response from Christie's office 10 days later, stating that the office "reviewed its records" but did not find any responsive emails. Weeks later, however, emails similar to what The Record asked for were made public after being obtained under subpoena by state Assembly Democrats.
It's unclear why the governor's office didn't turn over apparently responsive emails from the Yahoo Mail account of Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. She used the service to send messages to Wildstein, who ordered the bridge lanes closed. Representatives in Christie's office did not immediately return messages seeking comment Friday.