New Jersey lawmakers investigating intentional traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge authorized 18 new subpoenas in a widening probe into the administration of Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who has been mentioned as a potential presidential contender.
The joint Assembly-Senate committee yesterday also said two Christie aides had no grounds to fight its subpoenas and will get a last chance to comply before “all legal options” are unleashed.
The 51-year-old Republican has said he knew nothing about lane closings on the world’s busiest span that backed up traffic for four days in Fort Lee, whose mayor hadn’t endorsed Christie. The governor’s office, re-election campaign and 18 individuals were ordered last month to turn over documents and communications related to the scandal.
The committee yesterday narrowed the scope of subpoenas sent to Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, his campaign manager, Assemblyman John Wisniewski said. Both had said they wouldn’t comply with the orders, citing their right against self-incrimination under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
“This is a process that will enable the committee to provide the opportunity for those who are objecting one last shot,” Wisniewski, a Democrat heading the investigative panel, said yesterday. The committee will set a deadline for the pair to turn over information, Wisniewski said.
Kelly sent an Aug. 13 e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein, who ordered the lanes closed, replied: “Got it.” Christie later cut ties to Stepien and fired Kelly. Wildstein resigned.
The new subpoenas included fresh requests to Christie’s office and political campaign and added the names of several members of the governor’s staff and officials of the Port Authority, which operates the bridge, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who lacked authorization to speak and requested anonymity.
Those in the governor’s office included Nicole Crifo, senior counsel to the authorities unit; Jeanne Ashmore, director of constituent relations; Rosemary Iannacone, director of operations; and Barbara Panebianco, executive assistant to Kelly, according to the person.
Those working for the Port Authority included commissioner William Schuber; Matthew Bell, special assistant to Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director; Steve Coleman, deputy director of media relations; Phillip Kwon, deputy general counsel; and John Ma, chief of staff to Executive Director Patrick Foye.
Kevin Roberts and Michael Drewniak, spokesmen for Christie, didn’t return a call seeking comment on the subpoenas sent to employees of the governor’s office and campaign.
Subpoenas were also addressed to the custodian of records for the Port Authority and the New Jersey State Police aviation unit. The committee is seeking helicopter logs showing whether officials flew over the traffic jam, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation who lacked authorization to speak and requested anonymity.
Committee members are investigating whether the closings were ordered as political retribution against Mark Sokolich, the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, a New Jersey town of 35,700 at the base of the bridge.
The 12-member investigative committee, after a two-hour closed meeting, voted on resolutions reasserting its authority to issue the subpoenas; rejecting arguments that the requests impinged on privacy rights; and threatening legal action if they don’t comply.
Kelly’s attorney, Michael Critchley, said that he disagrees that the legislature has a right to enforce the subpoena.
“If they disagree with my legal position, that’s why we have judges,” Critchley said. “If they want to go to court, we’ll go to court and a judge will make a decision.”
Kevin Marino, a Chatham-based lawyer representing Stepien, said the committee was given “a detailed explanation of our constitutional and common-law objections.”
“If the committee asks a court to enforce that subpoena despite its legal infirmities, we will bring those objections to the court’s attention,” he said by e-mail.
The vote fell along with party lines, with all eight Democrats approving the measures. The four Republicans abstained.