Tag: George Washington Bridge lane closures

New Jersey panel issues 20 subpoenas in bridge inquiry

Source: Los Angeles Times -

A new investigative committee issued subpoenas Thursday for 17 individuals and 3 organizations as it launched a deeper look into the involvement of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in ordering closures that caused a massive September traffic jam on roads leading to the George Washington Bridge.

The names on the list weren’t immediately released, but they were expected to include Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, who weeks before the closures sent an email to a close ally of the governor on the Port Authority, the regional agency that controls the bridge. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” it said.

Jon Bramnick

“The resolution just says ‘abuse of power,’” said Jon Bramnick, the Assembly Republican leader. “Will Republicans be able to subpoena people they think have abused power in this building?”

Christie was not among those subpoenaed, according to committee head John Wisniewski.

As the new Assembly committee took its first actions, Christie tried to direct attention to his accomplishments in the state’s recovery from 2012′s Superstorm Sandy. But his administration also announced it had hired former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro to review his office’s actions. Mastro specializes in organized crime cases.

His appointment followed the hiring of Reid Schar, a former assistant U.S. attorney who served as lead prosecutor on the corruption case involving then-Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, as special counsel to the new investigative committee.

Wisniewski, a Democrat, also heads the transportation committee … said the new committee intended to investigate why Kelly sent the email, including “who gave that person authorization to send it. We don’t know why she felt empowered to send it.”
He declined to immediately release the names of those subpoenaed, saying he wanted them to be served first. He said the committee would ask for responses in two weeks.

Earlier subpoenas had asked for documents dating to August, the month before the lane closures. The new ones will expand the scope; the committee wants to see documents first before calling witnesses, he said.

The bipartisan cooperation that Christie has touted in his political career seemed to be dissolving over the “Bridgegate” investigation: The committee, made up of eight Democrats and four Republicans, bickered Thursday about the hiring of counsel, the potential cost and the panel’s open-ended mission to investigate any “abuse of government power” or an attempt to cover one up.

“The resolution just says ‘abuse of power,’” said Jon Bramnick, the Assembly Republican leader. “Will Republicans be able to subpoena people they think have abused power in this building?”

At a time when he had hoped to build his national profile before the 2016 presidential contest, Christie faces multiple investigations. Besides the Assembly effort, the New Jersey Senate is setting up its own committee and the U.S. attorney’s office has begun a preliminary inquiry.

In addition, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Monday it would audit how Christie’s office spent $25 million in Superstorm Sandy recovery funds.
Hoping to change focus, Christie traveled to Manahawkin, a coastal community still rebuilding from the storm, and told residents and a swarm of media that $817 million in federal Sandy funds — about 70% of the money awarded to the state — had been forwarded to people in need.

Christie told constituents that he was as focused on rebuilding the state “as I was when I woke up on the morning of Oct. 30, 2012.”

“Nothing will distract me from getting that job done,” he said. “Nothing.”

The speech had originally been scheduled for last week, but was canceled after the bridge scandal broke.

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Assembly panel issues 20 ‘Bridgegate’ subpoenas

Source: Asbury Park Press -

In a span of 24 hours, the new Assembly panel investigating Bridgegate fired off 20 subpoenas — targeting some of Gov. Chris Christie’s senior staff — and hired the prosecutor who brought down Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Gregory P. McGuckin

Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin, R-Ocean, said Schar’s hiring and the establishment of committee rules were made by Democrats “all without the minority being included in the process.”

“Here we are, less than an hour into this process, and the bipartisanship has fallen apart,” he said.

To majority Democrats, it is the start of swift justice. To Republicans, it is an overeager rush to muddy Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s fired deputy chief of staff, was one of those subpoenaed Thursday, according to CNN; and The Record said Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, also is being called on to provide information.

In addition, the Associated Press learned Matt Mowers, Christie’s former regional political director for his re-election campaign, was among those subpoenaed.

John Wisniewski, the chairman of the lower house’s Select Committee on Investigations, said he would not reveal who is getting subpoenas until they are served, a process expected to be completed today. Earlier this week, Wisniewski said Kelly and Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, were likely recipients. Others who have been top subpoena targets are additional members of Christie’s communications staff; Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd; and top Christie advisers Regina Egea and Charles McKenna.

Lawmakers who earlier said they were unified in getting to the bottom of September’s George Washington Bridge lane closures splintered Thursday. Republicans, who unanimously voted to create each panel, said subsequently that the probe was becoming too political and too expensive, with Democrats advancing plans for both houses of the Legislature to hire separate counsel.

Amy Handlin

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, said reforms clearly are needed for the Port Authority, but added, “At the same time, the public needs assurance that this will not be just a taxpayer-funded Coliseum that exists solely for the purpose of throwing as many people as possible to the lions.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said there is “zero evidence” that any legitimate traffic study was being carried out at the time the access lanes were closed, contrary to initial claims by Christie associates at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which may open its own probe, had asked the Port Authority a series of questions in December following testimony before a New Jersey legislative committee looking into the lane closings.

The agency responded by letter Wednesday.

David Wildstein, who went to high school with Christie and is described as the No. 2 person among executives representing New Jersey at the authority, told the bridge’s manager not to notify officials in Fort Lee about the upcoming closure, the authority said.

Wildstein and his boss, Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee, both resigned under pressure.

“The letter explains the careful planning and communication that should happen before interstate bridge lanes are closed for a traffic study or any other non-emergency purpose,” Rockefeller said.

Democrats on the Assembly panel on Wednesday committed to hiring former Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar as special counsel. Schar, whose firm will be paid up to $350 an hour, won the conviction of Blagojevich on corruption charges, including the allegation that he tried to sell President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat in 2008.

Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin, R-Ocean, said Schar’s hiring and the establishment of committee rules were made by Democrats “all without the minority being included in the process.”

“Here we are, less than an hour into this process, and the bipartisanship has fallen apart,” he said.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, said reforms clearly are needed for the Port Authority, but added, “At the same time, the public needs assurance that this will not be just a taxpayer-funded Coliseum that exists solely for the purpose of throwing as many people as possible to the lions.”

Meanwhile, the Christie administration announced it also had hired a former federal prosecutor to head up an internal review of staff involvement. The Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm and specifically, Randy Mastro, also will assist with the investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office into the closings, which snarled traffic in Fort Lee for four days.

The votes on establishing investigative panels were 33-0 in the Senate and 75-0 in the Assembly.

Christie said he had asked his staff whether any were involved and all denied it. The revelations that Kelly knew saddened him, he said, and he fired her and Stepien, who made derogatory comments about the mayor of Fort Lee in emails sent after the closings ended and began to draw criticism.

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Assembly creates investigative super committee

Source: PolitickerNJ -

Assembly lawmakers renewed the chamber’s authority to subpoena officials and continue investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

The General Assembly voted 75-0 to establish a new legislative super committee armed with subpoena power. The lawmaker charged with leading the committee that led to the discovery that someone in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration gave the apparent order to close lanes on the GWB. …

The Republican caucus largely voted in support of the resolution that formed the committee, but asked Democratic lawmakers to work hand-in-hand with Republicans.

Jon Bramnick

“We support on the Republican side of this aisle, further investigation, inquiries and questions,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-21). “The concern that the Republican minority has is that we move forward on a bipartisan [basis].”

Bramnick cited subpoenaed records being denied to Republicans in the recent week as a specific example where the prior investigatory committee failed to include GOP lawmakers in the process.

He asked for a process “to make sure that collateral damage is not done” and that the Assembly takes action to protect “those people who had nothing to do with the wrongdoing.” Bramnick said he’s concerned about documents being made public in the future that will disclose private information that has no connection to the GWB investigation.

At least one Republican lawmaker expressed concern over the cost of the investigation, citing the hiring of outside counsel to represent the Assembly super committee moving forward.

Chris J. Brown

“Who’s signing the check?” Assemblyman Christopher J. Brown (R-8) asked fellow lawmakers. He supported the measure but asked for a cap to be put on the cost of the investigation.

Republicans attempted to move the bill back to the drawing board in an effort to make changes to the resolution, however the motion was tabled by the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

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Asm. Bramnick Says Budget Cuts Are About Math, Not Politics (video)

Source: NJTV (video)

Following Monday’s State of the State address, Republican Assemblyman Jon Bramnick told NJTV News Anchor Harry Martin that the state budget is about the math and what needs to be cut — not about Republicans or Democrats.

Jon Bramnick

Bramnick said that for years the pension fund has been underfunded and he thinks Gov. Chris Christie raised the idea of pension reform because it is an ongoing issue. He said that there have been fixes to the plan before but that does not mean the problem was completely solved.

“Contractually we have to pay most of those pensions but we are trying to fix the pension system long term,” Bramnick said.

“Christie said, ‘Let’s discuss the high debt and let’s discuss the revenue issues in conjunction with pension issues down the road,’ and I don’t see why the reaction to this has been outlandish. I’m not getting it,” Bramnick said.

He said officials need to look at what needs to be paid and where cuts can and cannot be made, which is a discussion for the legislature.

“You have to understand your issues and expenses and that’s how we got in that mess because the government said yes to everybody. We have to discuss the future of the pension system,” Bramnick said.

As for the George Washington Bridge lane closure investigation, Bramnick said, “The governor and all my members agree that we have to get to the bottom of the emails. Some were outrageous. I think at this point John Wisniewski has done a pretty good job and we are on board to continue this, with the understanding that we stay within the scope of the authorizations.”

Bramnick said that he thinks the investigation will continue until the headlines stop.

“I am always shocked about what goes on in New Jersey,” said Bramnick.

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Republican Leader Bramnick on Assembly Committee Probe (video)

Source: CNN (video) -

Following the release of damaging e-mails that showed an epic traffic jam was tied to his office, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said he was shocked and blindsided by the revelations within. He also said that the New Jersey State Assembly has every right to investigate the scandal.

And it won’t just be Democrats on the Assembly committee probe. Republican New Jersey Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick says he has reason to believe a “substantial number” of Republicans will also be on the committee investigating the governor.

Jon Bramnick

“I trust the governor’s word,” Bramnick told CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” “The last guy who is going to lie to the cameras, in my opinion, is Governor Chris Christie.”

“If a governor lies about what he knows, that’s troublesome. That didn’t happen here,” said Bramnick.

CLICK HERE for video.

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Chris Christie will survive bridge scandal fallout, DiMaio says

Source: The Express-Times -

John DiMaio

New Jersey Assemblyman John DiMaio doesn’t think Gov. Chris Christie will suffer long-lasting effects from the traffic scandal that has rocked his administration this week.

So long as Christie’s telling the truth.

“Unless information comes up that demonstrates he’s not telling the truth, I have to take him at his word,” said DiMaio, a Republican whose 23rd District covers parts of Warren and Hunterdon counties.

“It’s hard to imagine that someone with his background — a bright guy who has been in the legal profession his whole career — would stand there for an hour and 45 minutes making it clear that he hadn’t any knowledge,” he continued. “I can’t imagine he would do that if he had anything to do with it.”

Christie had previously assured the public that his staff had nothing to do with lane closings last fall that caused major backups at the George Washington Bridge. But after documents revealed Wednesday that his administration may have intentionally caused the traffic jam to exact political retribution, the governor fired a top aide and his chief political adviser.

DiMaio said he doesn’t think Christie’s reputation will be tarnished or aspirations undermined because of the traffic scandal.

“If it stands the way it is and there is no direct connection to him with regard to this issue, it’s a long time between now and 2016,” said DiMaio, a former Hackettstown mayor, referring to the presidential election. “He did take steps to deal with the individuals who were involved. I think it goes away.

“This isn’t the first individual in any organization who has had employees who have made mistakes. Human beings are human beings. The only thing that would change this is if his statements are inaccurate.”

Doug Steinhardt, Lopatcong Township’s mayor and chairman of the Warren County Republican Committee, agreed that Christie will suffer little political damage from the fallout.

“I think he’s more apt to be judged not so much by what (his aides) did. He’s more apt to be judged by his response,” Steinhardt said. “I thought his response was quite frankly in keeping with his character: no-nonsense, straightforward, who doesn’t seem to tolerate impropriety in his office.

“From a national standpoint, barring some other piece of evidence that will come forward that shows his response was somehow disingenuous or incomplete or inaccurate, I don’t think that it hurts him from the national perspective.”

How the attention and focus on the scandal might impede business in Trenton, where a legislative committee is investigating the scandal, is a better question for Christie than for anyone else, DiMaio said.

“This won’t shut the Legislature down, that’s for sure. Nor should it shut down the executive branch,” DiMaio said. “This governor has commissioners in place and people in place to keep governing. And he’s going to be involved.”

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NJ Pols Pledge to Work Together on ‘Bridgegate’

Source: NJ 101.5 (audio) -

Following Gov. Chris Christie‘s marathon Bridgegate news conference, leaders from both sides of the aisle agreed they need to continue to work together in a bipartisan fashion — along with the governor — to keep the state moving.

Jon Bramnick

“I don’t see how this gets in the way of working together,” Bramnick said. “That has to do with the people’s business, and the governor was pretty clear here: he didn’t know what was going on, he’s saddened and he’s betrayed.”

Bramnick does think some mistakes were made by the Christie administration.
“He admitted them and he’s sad about it, but I don’t think people distrust this governor,” Bramnick said.

Assembly Speaker-elect Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) said  goal number one “is to work to do the best job for the residents of the state of New Jersey, and I’ve always said that. We always look at what’s best, and how can we compromise to get things done.

“He is the governor and we are the legislature, so government can’t stop,” Prieto said. ” I can tell you that, we have to keep going.”

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Experts: Christie did what was needed

Source: Asbury Park Press -

Chris Christie was roasted by political analysts earlier this week for showing a trait not often seen in the governor — the ability to be quiet, when he would have been better served by getting out in front of a crisis.

Jon Bramnick

“The governor has taken responsibility and demonstrated leadership. The released emails were very troubling and disturbing. The governor is deeply troubled and disappointed by the actions of certain staffers. He has faced this challenge directly. I hope we can move forward,” Bramnick said.

But Christie may have bounced back Thursday by holding a two-hour news conference in Trenton and then heading off to visit the mayor of Fort Lee, both efforts to douse the Bridgegate fire.

Christie on Wednesday had hunkered down in Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion outside Trenton, after several media organizations published emails and text messages showing a link between his administration and politically motivated George Washington Bridge lane closings.

Dan Hill, who was a senior adviser to former New Mexico Republican Gov. Gary Johnson and now heads the Ervin-Hill Strategy communications firm in Washington, said he was impressed with Christie’s energized performance at the news conference.

“He hit all the notes he needed to hit. He took responsibility, he showed empathy, he went through the facts, he showed he was going to hold people accountable, he answered some tough questions, and he stood there for a long time and didn’t try to shut it down,” Hill said.

Christie has been expected to mount a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and Hill said those plans can likely remain in place.

“Obviously, this all hinges on whether everything he said is accurate. But I think he’s recovered a lot of ground, even though this affair is still the type of thing that will continue to infuriate people and provide fodder for his enemies,” Hill said. “Really, the thing that bothers some people is that he didn’t take it more seriously and didn’t take more decisive action when it first surfaced. He lost control of the narrative.”

Patrick Murray, the director of the Monouth University Polling Institute, said Christie had no chance to repair all the damage to his image in one day.

“If I was going to give him a grade out of 10, I’d give him a 6, but 6 was the best he could do because there was nothing he could do to make him look good,” said Murray, noting that Christie’s boast of being surrounded by loyal, efficient government administrators had taken a hit.

But Jon Bramnick, the Republican Assembly leader, said Christie’s rebound was impressive.

“The governor has taken responsibility and demonstrated leadership. The released emails were very troubling and disturbing. The governor is deeply troubled and disappointed by the actions of certain staffers. He has faced this challenge directly. I hope we can move forward,” Bramnick said.

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Asm. Bramnick Happy With Leadership Christie Showed at GWB Press Conference

Source: NJTV (video)-

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he was happy to see Gov. Chris Christie show his traditional leadership today at a press conference addressing the latest developments in the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy.

Jon Bramnick

“I’m a big fan of the governor. He got out there and answered hours of questions. Doesn’t hide, answers every question the exporters ask, and says he is very sad and many of us are. When you see those kind of emails, it’s very hurtful and it’s depressing and we don’t like that conduct,” Bramnick said.

Bramnick said that as the investigation proceeds, everyone will see what the actual bottom line is.

“I was happy the governor showed his traditional leadership and that’s so important in this state because his leadership has been so vital to the reforms. That’s why I was so happy that he spent so much time at the meeting today,” Bramnick said.

Bramnick said Christie fired Bridget Anne Kelly because she did not tell Christie the truth. He said that Christie is sad because she was a member of his inner circle that he trusted.

Bramnick said that he has deep trust in the investigation because there are former U.S. attorneys and assistant U.S. attorneys involved who have prosecuted hundreds of politicians.

“I just hope it gets resolved so we can move on with state business,” Bramnick said.

All members of the Assembly Transportation Committee voted to cite David Wildstein for contempt during today’s hearing. “The argument is whether or not he has a constitutional right and whether or not that trumps the state law and I think a state court is going to make that determination. But counsel to the committee said all of the members — Democrat and Republican — were in their rights to vote in favor of a contempt charge, so they did,” Bramnick said.

As for Bill Stepien, Bramnick said that Christie lost confidence in him and it was a difficult day for Christie because they were close.

“The governor, as he said, has just been sad, up all night, and I think when you have a close friend and confidant and you have to let them go, it’s tough but obviously the governor lost confidence and when the governor loses confidence in somebody that pretty much ends it,” Bramnick said.

Bramnick said that the Republican Party is a lot bigger than any one individual and he thinks there are quality people in the party with good ideas, so they will move forward from this.

“I think after two hours of speaking to the press and the public saw that Christie was distressed about this. I think the public’s distressed and we all should be concerned about what we saw in those emails. I think Christie will easily regain the confidence of New Jersey because of his outstanding leadership qualities and what he has done already,” Bramnick said.

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Rumana says Democratic committee chairman not sharing documents in GWB lane closure probe

Source: The Record -

Democrats who control the panel investigating the controversial lane closings at the George Washington Bridge are not releasing subpoenaed documents to GOP members, a Republican member of the committee said Monday.

State Assemblyman Scott Rumana, R-Wayne, said that even though Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, has had documents provided to the committee for the last two weeks, he has yet to let Republicans on the committee see the records in advance of the latest legislative hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday.

Scott Rumana

“Chairman Wisniewski has publicly stated that he has reviewed the subpoenaed documents at least twice,” Rumana said in a news release.

“He has yet to release this information to Republican committee members and has denied our request to examine the documents,” he said. “The committee members, regardless of party affiliation, are entitled to study the information in order to properly prepare for Thursday’s hearing.”

Wisniewski could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Tom Hester, a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, said the Republicans on the committee would get the Port Authority records prior to the hearing.

“The documents are still being reviewed in totality and the Republicans will certainly get them with enough time to review before Thursday’s hearing,” Hester said.

The Assembly committee has been investigating the September lane diversions at the George Washington Bridge, which is administered by the Port Authority, and so far two Christie appointees have stepped down in the wake of the investigation into what they called a traffic study. Local officials claimed the traffic backups that ensued hampered public safety efforts and that Port Authority officials did not notify them of the traffic study before it started.

Fort Lee’s Mayor Mark Sokolich initially suggested the lane changes may have been punitive in nature, but he has since failed to explain why.

Wisniewski told The Record earlier this month that he believes the order to alter traffic lanes at the bridge came from outside the Port Authority, and from a “higher authority.”

Christie has denied any personal involvement or knowledge of the traffic study until after the delays at the bridge started to generate media attention.

Former Livingston mayor and political blogger David Wildstein, who Christie appointed to a top job at the Port Authority in 2010, has been called to appear before the committee Thursday.

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