N.J. Republicans Call for Greater Role in Bridge Probe

Republicans in New Jersey are threatening to walk away from the panel probing intentional lane closings at the George Washington Bridge if the Democrats in charge don’t expand their role.

In a letter today to Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Democrats with power to appoint committee members, the four Republicans on the 12-member panel said they’ve been shut out. They called for expanding their representation to seven members, gaining access to information at the same time as Democrats, and getting equal access to special counsel Reid Schar.

Reports that allies of Republican Chris Christie deliberately snarled the world’s busiest bridge -- turning 30-minute commutes into three-hour ordeals -- have become the biggest crisis in the governor’s career. The panel was formed after release of an e-mail in which Bridget Anne Kelly, a former Christie aide, suggested the possibility of creating traffic in the town of a mayor who didn’t endorse the governor.

“It’s reaching a point of silliness,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican committee member from Westwood, said in an interview. “We are getting pretty darn close” to leaving the committee.

Approval Slide

Sweeney, of West Deptford, and Prieto, from Secaucus, didn’t immediately return telephone messages today.

Republicans have warned since the committee’s first meeting that its investigation was in danger of becoming a witch-hunt aimed at derailing Christie’s political future. The governor, who is weighing a White House run in 2016, has seen his popularity slide amid the scandal.

Christie’s attorney Randy Mastro released an internal report last month exonerating the governor and chalking up the closings to rogue allies operating to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for unclear reasons.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat from Sayreville who heads the committee with Senator Loretta Weinberg, said the full Senate and Assembly approved the committee and its bylaws were adopted unanimously. To date, Schar’s firm has billed the committee about $400,000, he said. All members have access to Schar, he said.

“There’s a fundamental disagreement between Republicans and us,” he said. “Since the Mastro report came out, they’ve said, ‘We know all we need to know and let’s move on.’ Senator Weinberg and I, along with all of our colleagues, disagree.”

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