New subpoenas seek to unravel NJ bridge scandal
FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2008 file photo, attorney Randy Mastro, right, argues a case in state Supreme Court in New York while New York City Corporation Counsel Stephen Kitzinger, left, listens. Gov. Chris Christie's administration hired Mastro's law firm on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 to assist with an internal review in the wake of an apparent political payback scandal in New Jersey. The firm will be looking into a plot that shut down lanes to the George Washington Bridge for four days in September, 2013, causing massive traffic jams. (AP Photo/ Marc A. Hermann, Pool, File)
TRENTON, N.J. — Eight people who work for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have been served subpoenas in the traffic scandal investigation that threatens to undermine his administration.
The New Jersey Assembly confirmed Friday that subpoenas were served to Christie’s chief of staff, chief counsel, communications director and other aides. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is heading the legislative investigation, said Christie is not a target.
Wisniewski said 20 subpoenas were issued Thursday, though not all have reached the recipients. The names were not being released until the documents were served.
The subpoenas seek documents that could shed light on who was behind a plot to create massive traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee and whether it was done to settle a political score. Some people who are being asked to turn over text messages and emails could be called to testify later. Documents must be returned early next month.
“What we’re really looking at is the ‘why,’” said Wisniewski. “We know who sent out the request to close those lanes. We know who received it. We don’t know why it was sent. We don’t know who gave that person authorization to send it. We don’t know why she felt empowered to send it.”
The scandal broke wide open last week with the release of documents showing that a top Christie aide sent the message, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to the governor’s No. 2 man at the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge. That appointee, David Wildstein, replied, “got it.”
About three weeks later, Wildstein watched as two of three approach lanes to the bridge, one of the world’s busiest, were blocked off in Fort Lee, backing up local traffic into town for four days. It appears the plot may have been carried out to settle a political score, possibly against Fort Lee’s mayor, a Democrat who declined to endorse Christie.
The investigation into the lane closings threatens to upend Christie’s second term and derail any presidential ambitions. Four members of his circle, including Wildstein, a friend since high school, have lost their jobs.
Wildstein lawyer Alan Zegas told The Associated Press on Friday that his client is ready to testify if he is granted immunity from prosecution by the U.S. attorney’s office, which is reviewing the matter. Wildstein refused to answer questions when called before the legislative panel, invoking his right against self-incrimination.
“If he has immunity from the relevant entities, he’ll talk,” Zegas said.
Wildstein, whom Christie appointed to a position in the Port Authority, supplied a legislative committee with the most damning documents in the case so far.
These included the email from fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly giving the go-ahead for the lane closings in mid-August.
Christie has apologized but denied any knowledge of the plot.
On Thursday, his administration announced it had hired a legal team to deal with investigations by state lawmakers, a U.S. senator and federal prosecutors. The legislative committee also hired outside counsel, Reid Schar, who helped convict former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption.
On Friday, Christie was in Camden for a ceremonial swearing-in for a new justice on the state Supreme Court before heading to Florida for a weekend of private political fundraisers.