New subpoenas seek to unravel NJ bridge scandal

AP News
Posted: Jan 17, 2014 10:29 PM

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Twenty new subpoenas issued in a traffic jam scandal that has shaken Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration and threatens to undermine any presidential ambitions reach deep into his office and his re-election campaign but spare him.

Christie's chief of staff, chief counsel and top communications strategist are among those being compelled to produce emails and text messages related to an apparent political payback scheme to cause massive traffic jams last fall by closing local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, one of the world's busiest.

Christie's two-time campaign manager and regional political director were also subpoenaed, as were three people close to Christie whom he appointed to the powerful bistate agency that oversees the bridge. Two of them have resigned because of the scandal.

The subpoenas seek text messages and emails that could shed light on the traffic jams plan. Some people who are being asked to turn over the documents by early next month could be called to testify.

Christie has apologized for the traffic jams and said they blindsided him. He has called his staff's behavior "stupid."

Christie is not a target of the investigation, said Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is heading the probe, one of several looking at the traffic jams.

"What we're really looking at is the why," Wisniewski said. "We know who sent out the request to close those lanes. We know who received it. We don't know why it was sent. We don't know who gave that person authorization to send it. We don't know why she felt empowered to send it."

The scandal broke wide open last week with the release of documents showing that a top Christie aide, Bridget Kelly, sent an email in mid-August saying "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," the town at the base of the bridge. The governor's No. 2 man at the transit agency, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, replied, "got it."

That appointee, David Wildstein, watched about three weeks later as two of three approach lanes to the bridge were blocked off in Fort Lee, backing up local traffic into town for four days. It appears the plot may have been carried out to settle a political score, possibly against Fort Lee's mayor, a Democrat who declined to endorse Christie.

The investigation into the lane closings threatens to upend Christie's second term, which starts with an inauguration set for Tuesday. Four members of his circle, including Wildstein, a friend since high school, have lost their jobs.

Wildstein lawyer Alan Zegas said Friday that his client is ready to testify if he is granted immunity from prosecution by the U.S. attorney's office, which is reviewing the matter. Wildstein refused to answer questions when called before the legislative panel, invoking his right against self-incrimination.

"If he has immunity from the relevant entities, he'll talk," Zegas said.

Wildstein supplied investigating lawmakers with the most damning documents in the case, including the email he got from Kelly giving the go-ahead for the lane closings.

A popular figure in the Republican Party who's considered a top contender for a presidential run in 2016, Christie has denied any knowledge of the plot.

On Thursday, his administration announced it had hired a legal team to deal with the investigations by state lawmakers, a U.S. senator and federal prosecutors. The legislative committee also hired outside counsel, Reid Schar, who helped convict former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption.

On Friday, Christie was in Camden for a ceremonial swearing-in for a new justice on the state Supreme Court before heading to Florida for a weekend of private political fundraisers.