published Friday, January 17th, 2014

New subpoenas seek to unravel New Jersey bridge scandal




New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to deliver his State Of The State address at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., in this Jan. 14, 2014, file photo.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrives to deliver his State Of The State address at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J., in this Jan. 14, 2014, file photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TRENTON, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie's top staffers are among 20 people and organizations subpoenaed in a widening traffic jam scandal that has shaken his administration.

Christie's chief of staff, chief counsel and top communications aide are among those to receive subpoenas Thursday and Friday. The Christie for Governor campaign organization also was subpoenaed, though the governor wasn't.

The subpoenas seek documents in the investigation of a scheme to close traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge, one of the world's busiest bridges, causing massive traffic tie-ups. The plot may have been carried out to settle a political score.

Some of those on the list could be called to testify later.

The lawyer representing one person implicated in the plot says his client would testify if granted immunity from prosecution.

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

The subpoenas, among a total of 20 issued Thursday and Friday, seek documents that could shed light on who was behind a plot to create the traffic jams in Fort Lee and whether it was done to settle a political score. Some people who are being asked to turn over text messages and emails could be called to testify later. Documents must be returned early next month.

Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is heading the legislative investigation, said Christie is not a target.

"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 sent a message saying "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" to the governor's No. 2 man at the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge. That appointee, David Wildstein, replied, "got it."

About three weeks later, Wildstein watched 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 and derail any presidential ambitions. 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, whom Christie appointed to a position in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, supplied a legislative committee with the most damning documents in the case, including the email from fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly giving the go-ahead for the lane closings in mid-August.

Christie has denied any knowledge of the plot.

On Thursday, his administration announced it had hired a legal team to deal with 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.

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