TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Twenty subpoenas for documents are being issued to people and organizations in the investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal that involves New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s associates.
The subpoenas went out Thursday, soon after the state Assembly authorized a special committee to extend its inquiry. The committee will not have the power to prosecute, CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported.
A total of 17 individuals and three organizations are on notice they can expect to furnish documents and testify, CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported.
“This is the next logical step in our investigation into this threat to public safety and abuse of government power,” said Assemblyman John Wisinewski, who is leading the investigation. “We have many unanswered questions about what happened here, who was involved and why. I am confident these subpoenas will shed more light on this situation and I look forward to cooperation from all parties.”
Wisinewski would not name any subpoena recipients until the documents are served, presumably by Friday.
He has indicated, however, that people whose names appeared in previously obtained emails and text messages are likely to receive subpoenas.
They include fired Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien.
“We need to know who else in the governor’s office was involved in authorizing it,” Wisniewski said. “What we’re asking for first is material and documents before we ask for testimony.”
Other officials who have reportedly been subpoenaed are Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak; the governor’s communications director, Maria Comella; his chief counsel, Charles McKenna; and his chief of staff Kevin O’Dowd.
Sources also told CBS 2’s Sloan the subpoenas would go to Port Authority board members David Samson and Pat Schuber, and Christie’s chief of staff, Regina Egea.
When state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) was asked if the senate would be willing specifically to subpoena Samson, she said, “Absolutely, but right now we’re starting by subpoenaing his documents.”
Republicans said they are concerned about the cost to taxpayers and the subpoenas.
“What has happened here is a committee of one will decide when subpoenas are issued,” said state Rep. Gregory McGuckin (R-Brick.) “In fact, the minority might not even be told that they’ve been issued.”
Critics also said the subpoenas amount to a witch hunt because Christie might have presidential ambitions.
“This is a former federal prosecutor who indicted over 100 politicians,” New Jersey Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said of Christie. “Do you actually think this is a guy who would lie in a press conference for an hour and 45 minutes?”
The Assembly already has tapped Reid Schar, the federal prosecutor who helped convict deposed Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption, to aid in the investigation.
Six different investigations are going on at the same time. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the New Jersey state Senate and the federal government have been looking into the lane closures that led to massive traffic jams for four days.
Christie remarked on the investigation Thursday.
“I want to assure the people of New Jersey of one thing — I was born here, I was raised here, I am raising my family here. This is where I plan on spending the rest of my life,” Christie said. “And whatever test they put in front of me, I will meet those tests, because I’m doing it on your behalf.”
It’s alleged that the closures near the George Washington Bridge were ordered as political payback and caused massive traffic backups.
Documents that were subpoenaed earlier and released showed that a now-fired member of Christie’s administration gave the go-ahead to shut down lanes in Fort Lee leading to the GWB, possibly as a political vendetta against the mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.
Kelly wrote: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
As the scandal unfolded, Wildstein resigned last month, as did former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee. Christie fired Kelly last week.
Schar, a former assistant U.S. attorney, will advise a legislative committee investigating the traffic plot.
He issued a statement Wednesday saying his firm “understands the importance of this investigation” and will “work diligently” to support the committee.
Christie said earlier Thursday he has hired a legal team headed up by a former federal prosecutor to help the administration conduct its own review of the closures.
Former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro — who served as deputy New York City mayor under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — will lead the team from the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the administration said in a news release Thursday. The firm will review best practices for office operations and assist with ongoing investigations.
“Their presence will bring an outside, third-party perspective to the situation, and they will be a valuable asset as we move forward,” the administration said in a statement.
Mastro was an assistant U.S. attorney who specialized in organized crime cases and led the federal government’s landmark racketeering suit that compelled the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to hold elections and undergo court supervision, the administration said. He also served as a deputy mayor of New York City.
At a news conference last week, Christie said he would continue interviewing his senior staff to determine if there is any other information he needs to know and take any other action, but he did not indicate his review would go further than that.
Also Thursday, U.S. Sen. John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), said there was no evidence that the September lane closures September were part of a traffic study.
“While we do not have all of the facts yet about how and why the September 9-13 lane closures happened, the Port Authority’s response to my December 16 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 in a statement released Thursday.
“The Port Authority officials who ordered the September 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closures did not follow their agency’s own procedures. The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study,” Rockefeller said.
In its letter to Rockefeller, the Port Authority called the lane closures “aberrational” and said the events of Sept. 9-13 were in no way representative of the manner in which business is conducted at the Port Authority.
The letter also said that the PA will cooperate with the investigation and that it strongly supports the committee’s efforts to ensure that what “occurred at the GWB never occurs at any of the Port Authority’s facilities again.”
Christie hasn’t been implicated, but the scandal has dogged him nonetheless.
He sought Thursday to turn the cameras away from the scandal with a visit, postponed after the bridge scandal hit, to a town on the Jersey shore hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy.
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