New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was greeted with audible boos and a few loud cheers during a Super Bowl-related appearance in New York City on Saturday, a day after a former appointee said the popular Republican knew about politically motivated lane closures near a busy commuter bridge.
The incident cast a cloud over Christie at what could have been a moment of triumph for a man considered a leading candidate for his party's nomination to run for president in 2016. The Super Bowl will be played on Sunday in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
At a ceremony marking the hand off of Super Bowl hosting duties, Christie appeared in New York's Times Square with NFL officials and political leaders from New York and Arizona, which will host next year's game.
Christie's introduction was met with a chorus of audible boos and chants of support from the thousands of people gathered in the area.
He did not mention the scandal during brief 30 second remarks in which he thanked the NFL and his New York counterpart and Super Bowl co-host, Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Wildstein speaks out, Christie responds
Christie said on Friday that a letter from Daid Wildstein, the Port Authority executive who ordered the lane closures, confirmed he had no prior knowledge of the bridge traffic jam that sparked a political scandal.
The letter, reported by the New York Times, claimed the official had proof of the "inaccuracy" of some of Christie's statements. But Christie's office said the letter "confirms what the Governor has said all along - he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened."
Christie's office also sent an email reading, "David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein." The email to Christie's friends and supporters was posted on the website Politico.com and confirmed by Colin Reed, a spokesman for the governor.
An attorney for Wildstein, wrote in a letter that "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 ..."
The letter, addressed to Port Authority officials who have denied to pay Wildstein's legal bills, represents the first time that someone within the Christie administration has implicated the governor directly to the scandal.
"Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some."
The letter does not specify what evidence Wildstein has, and it does not say whether Christie knew of the reasons for the lane closures. Christie has previously said he believed the closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. Wildstein's attorney has publicly said his client would tell his side of the story if he was granted immunity from criminal prosecution by both New Jersey, New York and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The closures last September caused four days of severe traffic jams for residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Christie's popularity has also been tarnished by his use of Superstorm Sandy relief money for a tourism ad campaign. The mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, has alleged that her hesitance to back a real estate deal prompted Christie's office to delay Sandy relief money.
"On the brink of ruin"
On Saturday, local newspapers said the governor's political career could be doomed if it was proven he knew in advance of the four days of George Washington Bridge lane closures that caused massive delays for commuters, ambulances and school buses.
The New York Daily News said in an editorial that Christie now "stands on the brink of ruin" if he cannot defend himself against the latest claims.
"In that event, Christie's governorship is over and he should prepare to face a federal criminal probe as a private citizen. Resignation would be a must. Otherwise, impeachment would be a snap," it said.
Charles Stile, a columnist for the Bergen Record, a major New Jersey newspaper, wrote on Saturday that if Wildstein produces evidence that "turns out to be the damning, incontrovertible kind, then Christie's career will be in tatters, if not over."
Hours after Wildstein's letter was released, Christie appeared in Manhattan to attend a birthday party for the broadcaster Howard Stern, but avoided the reporters assembled outside.
The Record (Bergen County) and Reuters contributedCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun