NJ Assembly to Hold Special Session on Bridge-gate
Saturday, 11 Jan 2014 10:46 PM
By Todd Beamon
New Jersey lawmakers vowed on Saturday to continue investigating the Bridge-gate scandal engulfing Republican Gov. Chris Christie, with the incoming speaker of the state Assembly saying he would call the body into special session.
"The documents released this week related to the George Washington Bridge situation clearly show the need for a continued thorough investigation by the New Jersey General Assembly," Democratic Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto said Saturday.
"Many questions remain unanswered about this threat to public safety and abuse of power," he said in a statement. "I expect to call the Assembly into special session on Thursday to consider legislation that would reauthorize subpoena power so this investigation can continue."
Prieto is to take the oath as speaker Tuesday.
Renewing the subpoena authority of the Assembly's Transportation Committee would allow the panel to continue requesting documents from the Christie administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey on the bridge closures after its power ends on Monday, the last day of the current legislative session.
The Port Authority is the bi-state agency that oversees the George Washington Bridge and other transportation operations in the region.
“I do think laws have been broken," Wisniewski told CNN Saturday. "Public resources — the bridge, police officers — all were used for a political purpose, for some type of retribution, and that violates the law."
He said legislators needed to “make sure any violations of law are addressed."
He said he would ask Christie and his staff on Monday to provide more correspondence and documents related to the lane closures that created massive gridlock on the world's busiest bridge for four days last September.
"There's still a lot of documents we haven't gotten we'd like to see," Wisniewski said.
In his statement, Prieto also praised the chairman's work.
"Chairman Wisniewski has done an outstanding and professional job leading this investigation, and I look forward to working with him as he continues to lead our inquiry," he said.
The calls for a continued inquiry came after more than 2,000 pages of documents, including emails and text messages, were released Friday by the Transportation Committee.
The documents referred to a meeting between Christie and Port Authority Chairman David Samson a week before a former Christie aide ordered the traffic lanes closed and that police had blamed Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee for the ensuing four days of massive gridlock.
Critics have charged that the closures were political payback because Sokolich did not support Christie's re-election bid last year. The governor is considered a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016.
The documents also show a general state of chaos and anger — and efforts to stall media inquiries — as thousands of commuters were trapped in the huge gridlock but fail to specifically tie the closures to what Christie said might have been a Port Authority traffic study.
The three local access lanes leading to the bridge's toll booths at Fort Lee were closed Sept. 9-13 without notice. They also slowed school buses and emergency workers, including those responding to a call of an unconscious 91-year-old woman who later died at an area hospital.
The new documents came a day after Christie apologized to Sokolich for the bridge scandal and expressed regret at a two-hour news conference at which he said that he knew nothing about the lane closures.
Christie told the session that he had fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, who wrote in an email to Port Authority executive David Wildstein in August: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Wildstein, who resigned last month as the agency's director of interstate capital projects because of the scandal, replied: "Got it."
State officials subpoenaed the documents from Wildstein and charged him with contempt on Thursday for repeatedly invoking his Fifth Amendment rights in testimony before the Transportation Committee. He had been appointed to his Port Authority post by Christie.
"I come out here to apologize to the people of New Jersey," Christie said at the Thursday news conference. "I apologize to the people of Fort Lee. And I apologize to the State Legislature."
Wisniewski said Saturday that no evidence or documents had surfaced that specifically linked Christie to the lane closures — but that the panel was seeking to learn whether anyone else in the governor's office might have been involved.
"Our investigation would be made immeasurably simpler if the governor's office would say: 'Please tell us what you'd like. We'll turn over all of those documents, the governmental emails, the personal emails, the correspondence, so that you can look at them and determine for yourself,'" Wisniewski told CNN.
A Christie spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
After the second round of documents were released on Friday, Wisniewski said that they raised more questions than they answered about whether Christie knew about the traffic tie-up.
He added that he believed that laws were broken but said any decision to bring criminal charges would be made by prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor, has asked the FBI to assist its investigation into the decision to lane closures.