It is a good time to reassess the goals of the Legislature’s joint committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lanes closing and ask whether it is in the best interests of justice that the committee be dissolved.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to Christie, and the man who held her job before her, Bill Stepien, who also was Christie’s former campaign manager, did not have to surrender documents subpoenaed by the committee.
The judge said the subpoenas were too broad and put Kelly and Stepien at risk of violating their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination: “The requests, even as modified, remain a fishing expedition, albeit a slightly more defined one by virtue of the fact that some of the requests were limited to 32 named officials.”
The committee could call it quits. Its purpose is not to find and prosecute criminal activity. Wisniewski was clear from the start that the goal of the bipartisan effort is to come up with reforms that would keep something like Bridgegate from happening again. Some argue legislation to tackle that is possible now.
After the judge’s ruling, Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, a committee member, said the judge sent a message that the committee had gone too far. She said it needs to “focus on reform” of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She attempted to introduce legislation.
“For every dollar that we spend here, the Port Authority is spending $100 or $1,000 or $10,000 in a way that is completely dysfunctional or even parasitic,” Handlin said.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, also a Republican committee member, has defended the GOP position in media interviews. She says Fishman is more than competent to conduct an investigation.
That same sentiment was held ever so briefly by a prominent Democrat, Senate President Steve Sweeney. Before the judge ruled, Sweeney said that if the committee loses in court, it should throw in the towel. The next day, Sweeney inexplicably did a 180, saying the committee should consider its options, including an appeal.
Some suspect that there is something else at work here.
Both Sweeney and Wisniewski are thought to be interested in running for governor. More people know Wisniewski’s name because of the bridge scandal coverage.
And Sweeney would not be served well politically if Wisniewski’s committee got credit for getting to the bottom of what happened.
Cooperating with Fishman, using common sense and focusing on New Jersey’s best interests means both probes, with their separate goals, are possible without conflict. But it’s harder when you have politicians investigating politicians.