The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the role played by aides to Governor Chris Christie in intentional traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge has issued 38 subpoenas to people and organizations.
Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin, a Republican who attended the committee’s two-hour closed-door meeting Feb. 10, said yesterday that the panel isn’t treating everyone alike.
“When they’re looking for records, Democrats get a private phone call and a meeting, and when you’re a Republican, you get a subpoena,” McGuckin said in a telephone interview.
Several notable names are absent from the committee’s list: Mark Sokolich, the Democratic Fort Lee mayor who said the closings appeared to be punishment for his failure to endorse Republican Christie for his November re-election; Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, a Democratic appointee who ordered a stop to the closings; and Keith M. Bendul, Fort Lee’s police chief, who raised an alarm about safety hours after the jams started.
Since the four days of chaos in September, investigations of the bridge affair by the Democrat-dominated legislature and federal authorities have been Christie’s greatest political challenge and threaten to derail a possible 2016 presidential run. Speaking yesterday to the Economic Club of Chicago, Christie said the past six weeks “haven’t been the most enjoyable of my life.”
Two former aides, deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and campaign manager Bill Stepien, have said they won’t comply with subpoenas. Christie cut ties to Stepien and fired Kelly, who 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 closings, replied: “Got it.”
Last month, the governor’s office, re-election campaign and 16 other individuals were ordered by the committee to turn over documents and communications. On Feb. 10, it issued 18 more subpoenas. Members are poring over papers in a private room in the Statehouse Annex in Trenton.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Sayreville Democrat who is co-chairman of the 12-member committee, said the roster of the subpoenaed may grow as questions arise. Others may be called for interviews based upon their level of cooperation, he said.
“It’s not a simple world in which we live and we have a lot of tools,” he said. “We’re going to use all available means from the most aggressive ones, which would obviously be subpoenas, to anything less aggressive.”
Sokolich, Foye and Bendul didn’t return telephone messages about being left off the list.
Wisniewski’s centrality to the investigation has thrust the 51-year-old lawmaker into a high-profile role that has seen him appear on cable news networks regularly and in the process earned him the kind of statewide name recognition that could help if he runs for governor in 2017.
He said yesterday that Republican “obstructionists” are seeking to undermine the panel’s credibility by complaining about who’s been subpoenaed.
The Feb. 10 batch included fresh requests to Christie’s office and election campaign and added members of his staff and officials of the Port Authority, which operates the bridge, according to copies released yesterday.
Under committee bylaws, Wisniewski and Special Counsel Reid Schar determined the list, the person said. During the meeting, Republicans and a few Democrats questioned why those with ties to Christie received subpoenas and Democrats or people unconnected to the administration merely were invited to answer questions voluntarily, the person said.
Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, a Democrat from Voorhees who sits on the 12-member panel, said, “Who’s subpoenaed is driven by advice from our counsel. That does not mean our discussions are limited to those people alone.”
Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, the deputy Republican leader, said minority members on the committee haven’t been included in decisions about who should be subpoenaed and why.
“Being forced to get it from watching MSNBC definitely undermines the integrity of the entire process,” Handlin said in a telephone interview.