N.J. Lawmakers Begin Reviewing Papers in Bridge-Jam ProbeAnnie Linskey, Terrence Dopp and Elise Young
A Republican lawmaker and a Democratic colleague were among the first to enter room 381 of the New Jersey statehouse annex to see closely guarded documents that shed little light on intentional traffic tie-ups at the George Washington Bridge.
Just four of the 20 people and groups subpoenaed to deliver e-mails, texts and other papers complied by a Feb. 3 deadline, said a person with knowledge of the investigation who, lacking authorization to speak, requested anonymity. Republican Governor Chris Christie’s office has begun providing documents, according to one of the lawmakers who viewed them. Two of his former aides refused to comply with a legislative panel’s subpoenas seeking documents related to the tie-ups, citing privacy concerns and the right to avoid self-incrimination.
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Democrat from Englewood, said today in Trenton that she examined about three of five binders containing the new information, which ranges from routine appointment calendars to e-mails and telephone logs. Some appointments had been redacted, she said.
“It was a lot of nothing,” said Huttle, who spent more than an hour in the room.
Lawmakers are trying to determine why Bridget Anne Kelly, a Christie deputy chief of staff, ordered bridge-access lanes closed last September in Fort Lee, a town of 35,700 whose Democratic mayor refused to endorse the Republican governor in the November election.
Christie, 51, said Jan. 9 that he had known nothing about the closings, which paralyzed traffic onto the bridge for four days, until he read about them in media accounts. Investigators are looking for evidence that the governor knew of the lane closings as they occurred.
Those who submitted documents are connected to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge. Most of the others asked for extensions.
Kelly and Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien have informed the committee they won’t provide documents. Christie cut ties to Stepien and fired Kelly. She sent an Aug. 13 e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the authority, that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein replied: “Got it.”
The documents at the scandal’s center are being guarded “at all times” while members of the Legislative Select Committee on Investigations and staff members inspect them, according to a Feb. 3 memo obtained by Bloomberg News.
The Democratic lawmakers heading the panel, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Senator Loretta Weinberg, advised members in the memo that they may not copy or remove papers.
“I don’t expect to see anything that is more than the sketchy tip of the iceberg,” said Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, a Republican from Middletown, who arrived just before noon to view the documents. “I appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with them.”
Handlin said she spent two hours in the room, and some of her staff members will return to review the documents later today. She said she reviewed “hundreds and hundreds” of papers.
“It definitely doesn’t answer questions,” Handlin said. “It’s far too preliminary to construct a narrative. It’s too early. There are too many puzzle pieces missing.”
Others reviewing the materials this morning included a staff member of a Democratic lawmaker and two lawyers for Republicans.
Among the new documents is a November e-mail from William Baroni, the former deputy director of the Port Authority, to Wildstein, who oversaw the lane closings, that refers to a traffic study, according to the person with knowledge of the investigation.
In testimony in November before the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee, Baroni said the closures were for a traffic study. Baroni and Wildstein resigned in December. The study has yet to be produced.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican from River Vale, has a Feb. 10 appointment to review the material, she said. Senator Linda Greenstein, a Democrat from Plainsboro, said she will see the documents Feb. 11.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat from Ewing, said she was awaiting a summary because the material hasn’t arrived all at once.