NJ Assembly Panel Scrambles to Get Out Bridge-gate Subpoenas

Image: NJ Assembly Panel Scrambles to Get Out Bridge-gate Subpoenas George Washington Bridge toll booths in Fort Lee, New Jersey on Jan. 9.

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 08:31 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Subpoenas could go out today to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's top former aides, ordering them to testify before a state General Assembly committee investigating the so-called bridge-gate scandal that led to a massive tragic jam last fall in Fort Lee, NJ.

Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski told the New York Post that Bridget Kelly, who was the GOP governor's deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager, would be the first subpoenaed from what he called a "fairly large" list of potential witnesses in the probe of the ordered shutdown last fall of lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge linking New Jersey and New York.

Wisniewski also said that Kevid O'Dowd, Christie's current chief of staff who has been nominated for state attorney general, would likely be called to testify as well. Citing unidentified sources, the Post noted that state Senate Democrats have already delayed his confirmation hearing, pending his testimony.

The Post reported that others potential witnesses include Charles McKenna, Christie’s chief counsel, Regina Egea, O’Dowd’s named replacement who oversaw the governor's Authorities Unit, Port Authority Chairman David Samson, and Christie communications staff members Maria Comella and Michael Drewniak.

The scandal has frozen Christie's office and any presidential ambitions he may have had looking ahead to 2016 have been put on hold, at least for the moment.

According to ABC's WPVI-TV in Philadelphia, the Assembly panel is scrambling to get subpoenas out before Tuesday, when the current session of the legislature is scheduled to end. However, a special session has already been called for Thursday to allow for a vote that would extend the panel's authority to continue its investigation.

The Bridge-gate affair reportedly began with an email from Kelly to Christie appointee David Wildstein at the Port Authority saying it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

A month after the email went out, two entry lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee were closed, snarling traffic on one of the busiest bridges in the country. The forced closures reportedly took place as "political retribution" against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who has refused to endorse Christie's reelection campaign.

Wildstein appeared before the Assembly panel last week, but pleaded the Fifth Amendment repeatedly in declining to answer questions.

Christie fired Kelly last Thursday and killed Stepien opportunity to the Republican Party in New Jersey.

So far, the governor has denied any knowledge of the lane closures and in a lengthy press conference last week sought to disspell the notion that his style of governing, sometimes described as heavy-handed and even bullying, had influenced the behavior of his staff

But Wisniewski suggested to the Post that there were still many unanswered questions.

"Bridget Kelly sent the ­e-mail. Bill Stepien was her boss before he went to be the campaign manager, and the governor terminated them both," Wisniewski said. "I don’t for a moment believe that Bridget Kelly came up with the idea of the lane closures on her own, or, quite frankly, even the language that she used on her own."

Although anger at Mayor Sokolich has been raised as the possible reason for the lane closures, MSNBC host Steve Kornacki suggested on his weekend program that the closures were designed to thwart a multi-billion revitalization project that was considered the crown jewel of Sokolich's agenda for Fort Lee.

"It wasn't just the everyday lives of commuters and residents that were altered or in some cases jeopardized by what happened in Fort Lee," Kornacki said. "Something else was affected and possibly jeopardized, something of enormous economic and political significance."

EMBED KORNACKI:

The Fort Lee project, which involves residential and retail high rise construction, is located on a prized 16-acre tract of land located where the lane closures occurred. The lanes accessing the bridge normally provide quick access for commuters headed into New York City and have been used to help market the project. On his program, Kornacki said the lane closures could have been part of a larger effort to shut them down permanently and played clips of Christie in the past questioning why Fort Lee even needed one lane of access into the city.

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