Chris Christie is no stranger to internet trolls. Mere mention of the New Jersey governor’s name elicits a stream of unprintable quips about belt sizes, bridges and beaches.
But few of these digital jokesters have the potency of Christie’s latest online critic: A high school classmate and former ally who destroyed the Republican’s political career.
"Wish all he dumped on me were some nachos,” David Wildstein, the admitted mastermind of the George Washington Bridge lane closures, tweeted last week after Christie said he showed restraint by not pouring his gooey snack on a Cubs fan who heckled him at a baseball game.
The tweet wasn’t the first and won’t be the last in what’s become a steady stream of snarky posts from the 55-year-old Wildstein, after his sentencing last month in federal court. He sent his first tweet hours after walking free, sharing a copy of the statement he read to a judge who spared him prison time.
Since then, the former blogger and political operative has let loose daily, publicly posting on Twitter and, more recently, Facebook, his thoughts on the political world, some nostalgic musings and a few history lessons with parallels to today.
Most of the posts have nothing to do with Christie. A few call out other politicians in the same orbit, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But some are openly mocking of Christie, whose approval rating has bottomed out at a record-low 15 percent.
“In New Jersey, there’s a guy less popular than Richard Nixon was in 1974, a few months before he left office,” Wildstein tweeted on July 20, a week after he was sentenced to probation and community service.
Two days later, in a reference to two politicians who endorsed Christie’s failed presidential bid, he posted: “Two most popular Governors, Baker & Hogan, deserve forgiveness for unfortunate ’16 presidential primary endorsements. People make mistakes.”
Like a number of other Wildstein quips, the tweet seemed intentionally meta. He openly says one of his biggest mistakes — aside from plotting a traffic-snarling political stunt — was believing in Christie.
He claims the governor set the tone that led him and two accomplices, both of whom he testified against, to carry out the brazen and bizarre lane closure scheme meant to exact revenge on a mayor who refused to endorse the governor. And he also claimed Christie knew about the closures as they were occurring, an accusation the governor denies.
“Each of us put our faith and trust in a man who neither earned nor deserved it,” Wildstein said in the statement he read at the sentencing. “Sadly, many of us had been conditioned to put politics ahead of the public when the public should always come first.”
If he keeps it up, Wildstein could dog Christie for years to come, working to cement the image the governor’s been trying to shake since the Bridgegate scandal broke wide open 3 1/2 years ago, helping torpedo his presidential ambitions.
Wildstein, who was one Christie’s top executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, will have plenty of time for banter: He’s now retired, living in Florida and will spend the next three years on probation, a slap on the wrist he earned by turning federal witness.
Christie’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Wildstein, who was a classmate of Christie at Livingston High School, declined to comment for this story and hasn’t given an interview since the bridge scandal came into public view. He wrote on Facebook last week that he’s hoping those who used to follow him when he was in the media “might still like to hear about the history of New Jersey politics — and a little bit of commentary.”
“I’m not speaking about Bridgegate now, beyond my public statement,” he wrote.
One day, that may change.
It’s clear he “has this incredible story to tell,” one long-time friend, speaking on condition of anonymity, said last week. “I think, at some point, he’ll tell it.”
For now, the friend said, Wildstein seems to be happy being able to share his observations about the world. His insights can be a “huge asset from a historical perspective,” the friend said, calling him a “walking encyclopedia” for New Jersey politics.
Before he ended up at the Port Authority, Wildstein — who’s had a hand in a family business that manufactures door mats and other textiles — founded the blog PoliticsNJ.com. Using the pseudonym “Wally Edge,” a long-dead governor, he broke story after story of political intrigue. Some of the state’s most powerful residents spilled the beans in anonymous chat sessions on AOL Instant Messenger, records Wildstein meticulous preserved and still controls.
He eventually transformed his site into a real news operation, hiring a number of reporters, including Steve Kornacki, now at MSNBC. In 2007, he sold the site to 26-year-old Jared Kushner, now President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who brought it under the umbrella of the Observer Media Group as PolitickerNJ.com. Wildstein continued to run the site for several years.
After Christie was elected governor, Wildstein took the leap to the Port Authority, working under Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director. Wildstein testified they worked daily to advance the governor’s agenda and used the agency — a $7 billion operation that controls airports, bridges, tunnels and shipping terminals — to score political points.
The rest is history. Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to the governor, were convicted last year after Wildstein spent days testifying against them. They are both appealing their convictions after receiving prison sentences earlier this year.
Wildstein’s open social media presence took some by surprise. At the Port Authority, which is underdoing a leadership shakeup, staffers have passed around Wildstein’s tweets in recent weeks.
Even before Bridgegate, Wildstein didn’t have a great reputation at the Port, viewed by some as a master of dark political arts. He was said to scare some rank-and-file workers. He bought domains that carried the names of some of his colleagues.
“He can’t stay away from the internet, I guess,” said one former colleague.
Patrick Foye, the Port’s outgoing executive director and a Cuomo appointee, testified during the Bridgegate trial that some suspected Wildstein had been tapping their phone calls. Wildstein denied it.
It was Foye who ended the lane closures at the bridge after learning of the traffic jams they had caused. Foye has been among Wildstein’s online targets.
“Not exactly where I would send him,” Wildstein tweeted after POLITICO reported that Foye was headed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Last month, after the MTA said it would investigate why a train was held in a station before a press conference with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Wildstein brought things back around to his own scandal.
“This is how these things start,” he wrote. “Flack denial, then internal probe plege. Truth comes with journalists remaining dogged. #traingate?”
New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic majority leader and co-chair of a committee that investigated Bridgegate, said it doesn’t bother her that Wildstein’s walking free and speaking his mind. “He certainly paid a price for this stupid and bizarre move,” she said.
“He kind of, I guess, can’t resist the urge to conjure up his old persona before he got involved directly in the Christie administration,” Weinberg said. “I would guess that he’s going back to his happier days.”
Dana Rubinstein contributed to this report.