Christie Request for Fort Lee Mayor Interview Is Rebuffed

Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, turned down a request by lawyers for the office of Governor Chris Christie to ask him about deliberate traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge that paralyzed the town.

Randy Mastro, an attorney representing Christie’s office, sent a letter Feb. 8 to Sokolich’s lawyer, Timothy Donohue, seeking an interview and copies of communications on the tie-ups. Sokolich, a Democrat, has said he believes the lane closures at the bridge from Sept. 9 to 12 were meant to punish him for not backing the re-election of Christie, a Republican.

Donohue denied the request in a letter yesterday, saying his client “fully intends” to cooperate in investigations by the state legislature and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in Newark, New Jersey. They are probing who ordered the lane closures and why. Approval ratings for Christie, 51, have dropped during the scandal. He is weighing a White House run in 2016. Mastro’s firm is doing its own internal investigation for Christie’s office.

“While the mayor has gone out of his way to be fair to all parties in this matter, he wants to make sure that he respects the legal proceedings that are ongoing,” wrote Donohue, of Arleo Donohue & Biancamano LLC.

“In light of the parallel investigations being conducted at the same time regarding the same subject matter, I do not believe it would be appropriate for the mayor to be interviewed by you or to produce any documents,” he wrote.

Christie Reaction

Christie has said he didn’t learn of the tie-ups until they happened. Mastro, of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, declined in an e-mail to comment.

Mastro also has requested interviews and documents from Dawn Zimmer, mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey. She claimed that Christie’s administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t back a redevelopment project.

Zimmer’s attorney Gerald Krovatin declined the request, saying she was already cooperating with Fishman and lawmakers.

Mastro made similar requests for documents and interviews with Daniel Bryan, Zimmer’s chief of staff; Juan Melli, the city communications director; and councilmen David Mello and Ravinder S. Bhalla. They declined to turn over the documents, saying they too were cooperating with Fishman and the legislature.

Sokolich, 50, said in an interview this month that he believes the tie-ups were payback for his not backing the re-election of Christie last fall. The closures began without warning on the Monday that school began for the year.

No one directly told Sokolich why Christie’s allies put more traffic into a town abutting the bridge to Manhattan, stretching some 30-minute trips into four-hour ordeals, he said.

Mayor ‘Helpless’

“I was helpless, I was scared, and I was nervous,” he said. “All I kept hearing about was it was about me. I gave my police chief a directive that his only function was to keep order and safety and to find out what this is all about. He told me on Monday morning, ‘Mayor, I’m hearing this is about you.’”

Christie fired Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff, and cut ties to Bill Stepien, his campaign manager. Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, his two top appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge, resigned.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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