N.J. Bridge Probe Committee Offered Personal Data Shield

New Jersey lawmakers investigating intentional traffic snarls at the George Washington Bridge negotiated with two former aides to Governor Chris Christie over terms that would persuade them to surrender documents, including redacting personal data.

The witnesses, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien, rebuffed the efforts, Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a co-chairman of the panel probing the lane closings, said in an interview today at his law office in Sayreville, New Jersey.

“What we have done is have our attorney speak to their attorneys to let them know we are not looking for any personally embarrassing documents,” said Wisniewski, 51. “We’re looking for material related to the bridge.”

The lawmakers on Feb. 19 sued to enforce subpoenas on Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, and Kelly, his ex-deputy chief of staff. Both refused to turn over e-mails, text messages and other documents on the grounds that it violated their constitutional right against self-incrimination and unreasonable searches.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson yesterday ordered Stepien and Kelly to appear before her on March 11 to explain why they won’t comply. Both must submit written responses to the order by March 3, Jacobson said.

“The committee says they’re investigating matters related to the bridge, but what they’re seeking through the subpoena is the same information that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is actively investigating,” said Kelly attorney Michael Critchley. “We’ll argue our positions before Judge Jacobson, and she’ll make the call.”

Traffic Problems

Christie last month 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.”

The lane closings clogged Fort Lee, a town of 35,700 whose Democratic mayor didn’t endorse Christie in the November election.

Wildstein turned over roughly 900 pages of materials to the committee, of which about 40 pages was heavily blacked out, Wisniewski said.

‘Cavalier Attitude’

The material was mostly outside the scope of the subpoenas, Wisniewski said. However, some of the redactions should be part of the public records, he said, including “some awkward banter between people” that “displays more hubris and more of the cavalier attitude” that had been expressed in previous emails.

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.

Offers to Stepien and Kelly included allowing the pair’s documents to be reviewed privately prior to producing them to the committee, Wisniewski said.

“They’ve made it clear they are not interested in those intermediary efforts,” the lawmaker said.

Attorney Kevin Marino, who represents Stepien, declined to comment today when contacted by phone.

In a Feb. 18 letter to committee counsel Reid Schar, Marino said that even a pared-down version of the subpoena and an offer to review the documents in a judge’s chambers don’t overcome his objection that handing over information violates Stepien’s constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

“I can think of no lawful way the committee can obtain documents responsive to its subpoena,” Marino said in a letter to Schar.

Stepien and Kelly are the only people who are fighting the committee’s subpoenas to investigate the traffic jam. Sixteen others have either responded to committee subpoenas or worked out a schedule to produce documents. Christie’s office and his campaign organization are also turning over documents.

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