NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey lawmakers announced Monday that they are intensifying their investigation into the role that politics played in lane closures to an approach to the George Washington Bridge.
A special Assembly committee is being formed that will have subpoena power and a special counsel appointed to it.
Its chairman is to be John Wisniewski, who as head of the chamber’s transportation committee launched the initial investigation into the closing of lanes leading to the GWB.
“We need to know who else in the governor’s office was involved in authorizing it,” Wisniewski said.
“As the evidence in the case has unfolded, it’s become clear the questions that need answering here are no longer just transportation questions,” said Vincent Prieto, the incoming speaker of the state Assembly. “An abuse of power like this is not something that we will stand for.”
Republicans are cooperating, for now, CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported.
“My hope is that none of this becomes simply partisanship. If there’s wrongdoing, clearly it should be referred to the apropriate law enforcement agency,” said Assembly GOP Leader John Bramnick.
The investigation last week revealed that high-ranking officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration appeared to engineer lane closures at the bridge in September for political retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
Christie last week apologized but denied involvement. He also fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and cut ties with campaign adviser Bill Stepien.
As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, the committee will have a dedicated legal team and subpoenas for Kelly and Stepien.
“The Port Authority and other agencies are going to need a drastic overhaul,” said Wisniewski.
On Sunday, Wisniewski told CBS’ “Face the Nation” there’s no evidence Christie was directly involved in the traffic tie-up, but said the governor didn’t have to know about the lane closures for them to be a crime.
“When you use the George Washington Bridge for what the emails show to be a political payback, that amounts to using public property for a private purpose or for a political purpose and that’s not legal,” Wisniewski said.
Christie said Thursday he was “embarrassed and humiliated” by the conduct of some of his staff. He said he was “blindsided” by the revelations, which he said he discovered when subpoenaed emails were released last week.
WEB EXTRA: Read The Emails
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in August in a message to former Christie Port Authority appointee David Wildstein.
“Got it,” Wildstein replied. A few weeks later, Wildstein closed two of three lanes connecting Fort Lee to the bridge, causing crippling traffic jams in the town.
The messages do not directly implicate Christie, but they contradicted his earlier assertions that the closings were not punitive and part of a traffic study and that his staff was not involved. Christie has said he didn’t know of any plot to close the lanes.
Wisniewski said it “strains credibility” that the hands-on governor wasn’t told by senior advisers who received emails about the closings.
“His chief counsel knew, his deputy chief of staff knew, his incoming chief of staff knew,” Wisniewski said.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle took to the Sunday talk shows to debate the fallout from the traffic jams and any role Christie may have played.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on ABC’s “This Week” he found Christie’s explanation “pretty darn credible” that he didn’t know what members of his inner circle were up to while he was running for re-election.
“He was in campaign mode,” Giuliani said. “You miss a lot of things. You’re not paying as much attention.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Christie could move past the scandal and still win support from primary voters in the 2016 presidential race.
He said Christie demonstrated leadership by holding a lengthy news conference Thursday to apologize for the scandal, the most serious challenge to his political career, and to disavow any knowledge of its planning.
“America’s a forgiving people, but they’re forgiving when you take ownership, you admit mistakes, you take corrective action, and that’s what Chris Christie showed,” Priebus said.
Former Democratic New Jersey governor Richard Codey said a deputy chief of staff is high up the food chain, but still shouldn’t be calling any shots.
“If I were governor, the deputy chief of staff is not going to take action on their own,” Codey told WCBS 880’s Jim Smith. “So who put – who planted the seed in her brain?”
Sokolich said he wanted to believe Christie’s staffers acted without his knowledge but was having a tough time buying it.
“Anything his name was even remotely involved in, he was involved in,” said Sokolich, who met with Christie on Thursday when the governor traveled to Fort Lee to apologize personally.
Sokolich, who had initially urged the governor to stay away, said afterward that the meeting was productive.
“I’m taking him at his word,” he said Sunday. “There’s just a lot of stuff there, though.”
Christie is scheduled to deliver his State of the State address Tuesday.
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