Christie Campaign Subpoenaed as N.J. Bridge Probe WidensTerrence Dopp
The probe of lane closings at the George Washington Bridge widened as Governor Chris Christie’s office and re-election staff were subpoenaed and lawmakers demanded documents from Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman David Samson.
Legal papers were served on the Office of the Governor and Chris Christie for Governor Inc., the political organization that oversaw the Republican’s re-election campaign. Nine people within the administration were also subpoenaed. Pat Foye, the Port Authority’s executive director, whom people with knowledge of the subpoenas had said was on the list, wasn’t identified as being served today in documents released by the state Assembly.
The lane shutdowns brought traffic to a standstill for four days beginning Sept. 9 in Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election. Christie, who will be sworn in for a second term Jan. 21, has said he knew nothing about orders issued for the traffic jams through the Port Authority, which runs the bridge. The scandal has emerged as a threat to his national political ambitions.
“We’re going to follow the facts wherever they may lead us and, in order to do that, this committee needs to continue its investigation work,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Sayreville Democrat leading the probe, told reporters yesterday.
Democrats who control the New Jersey legislature are examining whether Christie or members of his administration had knowledge of the closings and whether they tried to cover it up.
The Assembly committee investigating the matter issued subpoenas to 18 people and two organizations, according to the list released by lawmakers.
Christie last week fired a deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, 41, saying she lied to him about whether anyone on his team was involved in the closings. E-mails and text messages obtained by Bloomberg and other news organizations included one she wrote Aug. 13 to David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who ordered the lanes closed.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote. He replied, “Got it.”
Kelly was subpoenaed along with Kevin O’Dowd, Christie’s pick for attorney general and his former chief of staff, according to the Assembly list.
Subpoenas also went to Maria Comella, deputy chief of staff for communications and planning; two spokesmen, Michael Drewniak and Colin Reed; Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager; Charles McKenna, the governor’s former chief counsel; and Regina Egea, head of the state authorities unit in the governor’s office at the time of the closures.
Those subpoenaed also include Nicole Davidman Drewniak, a Republican fundraiser; Evan Ridley and Christina Genovese in the governor’s office; Bill Baroni, who was Christie’s top executive appointee at the Port Authority; Wildstein, and Samson.
Other Port Authority personnel served were Philippe Danielides, senior adviser to Samson; Cristina Lado, director of government relations; and Paul Nunziato, president of the Port Authority police union. Matt Mowers, a Christie campaign aide in charge of contacting mayors for endorsements, also received a subpoena. He’s now executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party.
“This started out as an investigation into the Port Authority operations and finances and now has led us into the governor’s office,” Wisniewski said earlier this week.
Samson was nominated to the Port Authority board by Christie in 2010 and elected chairman in February 2011. In one message obtained under subpoena, Wildstein told Kelly that Samson was “helping us to retaliate” for New York officials’ easing of the jam on what would have been the fifth day.
Christie said Jan. 9 that he spoke to Samson for two hours on Jan. 8 and believed that he knew nothing about the issue.
The subpoenas give the recipients two weeks to turn over information, said Wisniewski, who expects hearings to begin in mid-February after the panel has time to review the documents.
Samson’s subpoena asks for all communications, including text messages, notes and documents between Sept. 1 and the present regarding the lane closures, along with all video and audio recordings and voice mails. It also asks for him to produce all calendars and day planners, and to hand over all smartphones, mobile phones, tablets and other similar devices he used, whether business or personal.
The Assembly asked for similar documents in its subpoenas.
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who had demanded answers from the bi-state Port Authority, released documents yesterday that showed Wildstein told agency staff not to alert the town of Fort Lee about the lane shutdowns.
Wildstein “made it clear that he would control the communication about the toll lane closures,” the authority said in a response made public by Rockefeller, who’s chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
Wildstein, who attended high school with Christie, resigned last month. He failed to tell Foye about the lane closings, the Port Authority said in its answers to Rockefeller’s questions.
“The Port Authority officials who ordered the September 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closures did not follow their agency’s own procedures,” Rockefeller said.
Baroni told lawmakers in November that the closings of two of three approach lanes were for a traffic study. He also said he knew about the move before it took place.
“The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study,” Rockefeller said.
Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, a town of 37,500, protested the closings in a Sept. 12 letter to Baroni and questioned whether there were “punitive overtones” associated with the decision. The mayor received no response.
The e-mails show Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein and Stepien delighting in Sokolich’s frustration. Baroni resigned last month, and Christie has cut ties with Stepien.
Senator Loretta Weinberg, head of a separate Senate investigatory committee, plans to issue separate subpoenas to Samson and William “Pat” Schuber, a Port Authority commissioner appointed by Christie in 2011, said Rich McGrath, a spokesman for the lawmaker, whose district includes Fort Lee. That panel is scheduled to meet Jan. 22 to consider a resolution regarding the issuance of those subpoenas.
Paul J. Fishman, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, also is probing the matter, according to a spokeswoman, Rebekah Carmichael. Christie, 51, has said he has nothing to hide and will direct his staff to cooperate.
Wildstein, who was subpoenaed by the Assembly to testify, invoked his right to remain silent. The panel ruled him in contempt. His attorney, Alan Zegas, told the panel he might be more cooperative if he received immunity from law enforcement.
The Assembly on Jan. 15 said it hired Reid Schar, the lead prosecutor in the corruption trials of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, to lead its investigation of the lane closings. Schar, a partner at the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block LLP, will be paid from the Assembly’s budget. In a letter to the Assembly yesterday, Jenner & Block agreed to fees of $350 an hour for partners and $300 an hour for non-partners.
The Christie administration yesterday said it retained Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to assist with the inquiries. Attorney Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor under former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, will lead the firm’s efforts, according to a statement from Christie’s office.
Reed, the Christie spokesman, declined to comment on the rate that Gibson Dunn will be paid or the terms of its engagement.
Drewniak didn’t respond to a call to his mobile phone or e-mail seeking comment on behalf of himself or any of the administration officials set to receive the subpoenas. Comella, who met with Christie yesterday in her office along with Reed, didn’t respond to a message left with her receptionist.
At an event in Manahawkin yesterday for Hurricane Sandy relief, Christie didn’t mention the bridge matter directly, though he said his job comes with “all kinds of challenges, as you know, that come out of nowhere to test you.”
Christie was scheduled to be in Camden this afternoon for a ceremonial swearing in of Faustino Fernandez-Vina, New Jersey’s new state Supreme Court justice. He then heads to Florida for a weekend of events for the Republican Governors Association, of which he is chairman.