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NJ Democrats Set To Merge GWB Traffic Jam Probe

Vehicles slow for tolls before crossing the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Vehicles slow for tolls before crossing the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey Democrats will pool their resources by merging separate legislative investigations into allegations that Gov. Chris Christie’s aides blocked traffic lanes near the George Washington Bridge to create backups in a nearby town to punish the Democratic mayor.

The Assembly and Senate plan to vote Monday to establish the joint bipartisan committee with power to subpoena people and correspondence related to the lane closings and abuse of power allegations. Chicago lawyer Reid Schar will serve as special counsel to the panel of eight Democrats and four Republicans.

“This is the optimal approach to ensuring the people of New Jersey get the answers they need to these questions about the abuse of government power,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, whose transportation committee was further along in its probe than a parallel effort in the Senate.

The U.S. attorney’s office stepped up a criminal investigation of the matter with subpoenas to the Christie for Governor re-election campaign and the state GOP, and probably others last week.

Twenty subpoenas issued by the Assembly panel remain pending and are due back next week.

Those reach deep into the governor’s office, the re-election effort and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Some officials who have reportedly been subpoenaed include 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.

The governor has said he was not involved in the planning or execution of the scheme, which appears to have been authorized by his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and carried out by his No. 2 man at the bridge agency, David Wildstein.

Kelly has been fired and Wildstein resigned.

Two other Christie confidantes were also let go: His top deputy at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, resigned after telling a legislative panel the lane closings were for a traffic pattern study, and two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien was told to step aside after he appeared to gloat over the traffic chaos in private emails released during the investigation.

Christie hasn’t been implicated, but the scandal has dogged him nonetheless.

He explained at a news conference earlier this month that he learned of his aides’ involvement when the subpoenaed emails were published.

Christie has said he has hired a legal team headed up by a former federal prosecutor to help the administration conduct its own review of the closures.

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(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)