Most of the 20 people and groups subpoenaed by New Jersey lawmakers investigating intentional traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge have asked for more time to deliver the documents.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat who is co-chairman of a panel probing the tie-ups, said he will start receiving documents for today’s deadline and expects submissions to continue on a “rolling basis” for several days. In almost all cases, respondents will provide the information electronically, he said in an interview.
Investigators are looking for any evidence that Governor Chris Christie knew of the lane closings as they occurred, Wisniewski said. That was the claim in a Jan. 31 letter by an attorney for David Wildstein, a former Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who has since resigned. When a Christie aide in August suggested to Wildstein that he create traffic in the town of a mayor who didn’t endorse the governor, Wildstein made them happen.
“We need to make decisions about who knew what when,” Wisniewski, 51, from Sayreville, said yesterday on CBS-TV’s “Face The Nation.” Wisniewski said it’s “premature” to discuss whether Christie should resign or face impeachment.
Christie, a 51-year-old Republican, has denied any role, and, in a Feb. 1 e-mail to supporters, questioned Wildstein’s credibility. The scandal has thrown into doubt the possibility of Christie running for president, turning a local act of political retribution into a national issue. But it also has unique repercussions throughout New Jersey and its statehouse.
This is the time of year when the governor’s staff in Trenton typically prepare for the annual February budget address. It will be a consequential one: The state may not be able to afford a $2.4 billion fiscal 2015 pension payment alongside the need for police and school improvements, Christie warned in a January speech. The payment was mandated in bipartisan legislation Christie signed in 2011, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat from West Deptford, said he would shut down government rather than ask state workers to pay more toward health care and retirement.
Christie previously has won support from the dominant Democrats for his ideas. Now, the bridge scandal has led them to subpoena 18 individuals and two organizations, including the governor’s office, his chief of staff and chief counsel, his former deputy chief of staff and longtime campaign manager and members of his press office.
The documents seek to unravel the mystery of what prompted Bridget Anne Kelly, a Christie deputy chief of staff, to order bridge-access lanes closed in Fort Lee. The link between that act of retribution, which caused traffic jams of four hours or more on four mornings in September, and the governor’s office came to light in a cache of subpoenaed e-mails and text messages released last month.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that a subpoenaed Christie staff member quit on the same day Wildstein made his accusation. Christina Genovese Renna had reported to Kelly, according to the news service.
For Christie, re-elected by 22 percentage points in November, the issue metastasized into his largest political challenge. Since the revelation, he also has faced and denied an accusation by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, a Democrat, that his administration linked Hurricane Sandy aid to approval of a development project. And the U.S. government has begun an audit of federally funded television tourism commercials he appeared in during the campaign.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, in a separate probe, has ordered the governor’s re-election campaign and the Republican State Committee to turn over documents.
“We’ve obviously seen large investigative committees seeking information about what happened and why over the years in Washington D.C., from Watergate to Iran-Contra,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville. “Whether they are effective or not depends really on two things: One is what they find; two is the leadership qualities of those who head the committees.”
Wisniewski said committee meetings haven’t been scheduled and the documents collected won’t be made public immediately. A conference room in the Legislative Services office will be set up for committee members to view the documents and they won’t be made public until they’ve been reviewed and the committee determines how to proceed, he said.
The last round of subpoenas issued led to seven people turning over 1,000 pages of documents, Wisniewski said in a Jan. 31 interview. The lawmaker said he can’t predict how many the latest round will yield.
“This is somewhat uncharted territory,” he said.
The subpoenas required all communications, including text messages, notes and documents between Sept. 1, 2012, and the present regarding the lane closings, along with all video and audio recordings and voice mails. They also demand all calendars and day planners, as well as all smartphones, mobile phones, tablets and other similar devices used during that period, whether business or personal.
The state and federal investigations won’t affect each other, Wisniewski said. He said the committee is finding out exactly what happened and why, then crafting laws to prevent it from taking place again. Fishman is conducting a criminal probe, he said.
Wisniewski said the investigation will go “wherever the documents take us.”