TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Twenty people and organizations close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were due to turn over emails, text messages and other documents involving an apparent vindictive plot to block traffic near the George Washington Bridge, though almost all the subpoena recipients have requested more time.
Meanwhile, Christie spoke about the scandal Monday for the first time since his marathon news conference on Jan. 9.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the co-chairman of the joint legislative panel leading the investigation, told The Associated Press that some extensions of Monday’s deadline were granted. The requests of others who were asked to produce documents on a rolling basis were also being considered.
“The committee has begun receiving material responsive to its subpoenas, with more responses expected in the near future in a cooperative effort with subpoena recipients,” Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the committee’s co-chair, said in a joint statement.
The two lawmakers added that no documents would be released Monday.
“The committee will announce its next step as soon as that course is decided,” Wisniewski and Weinberg said.
The subpoena returns are likely to be voluminous, as the committee seeks to unravel how high up Christie’s chain of command the order to shut traffic lanes went, whether the operation was meant to punish a Democratic adversary, and if so, why?
Appearing on his “Ask the Governor” radio show Monday night, Christie again insisted he didn’t know about the plan to close the lanes beforehand and that he only learned that members of his inner circle were involved after an original batch of subpoenaed documents was published on Jan. 8. However, one former loyalist, David Wildstein, indicated Friday there was contradictory evidence to show that the governor knew about the closings as they were happening.
“The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes? Did I authorize it? Did I know about it? Did I approve it? Did I have any knowledge of it beforehand?” Christie said in the radio appearance. “And the answer’s still the same; it’s unequivocally no. And in fact, no one’s ever accused me of that.”
Christie answered questions for one hour of his monthly call-in radio show. He took questions from 10 callers.
“Why, when it was closed down and traffic was backed up, why didn’t you call at that time to find out what the issue was?” one caller asked.
“I didn’t know about traffic, as I told you,” Christie answered.
CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider tried to call in, but could not get through.
Five people close to the Republican governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate have been fired or resigned amid the scandal, including Wildstein, who is seeking immunity from prosecution. The AP on Sunday confirmed the most recent resignation, that of Christina Genovese Renna, on Friday. Renna is among those subpoenaed by the legislative panel. She worked directly under Bridget Kelly, the fired deputy chief of staff who set in motion the lane closings with an email to Wildstein saying, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The lawyer for Kelly sent a letter Monday to the committee’s lawyer saying is invoking her right not to incriminate herself and refusing to cooperatore with the subpoena because the information demanded “directly overlaps with a parallel federal grand jury investigation.”
Former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien made a similar argument last week and is also not complying with a subpoena.
Fellow Republicans, meanwhile, remained adamant that Christie should not resign from his post as chairman of the Republican Governors Association following Wildstein’s latest claim, for which he has so far produced no evidence.
The support from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and other prominent Republicans put party faithful on the offensive and Wisniewski on the defensive as East Rutherford, N.J., hosted the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city on Sunday.
Christie, who did not take questions at Super Bowl ceremonies and received a smattering of boos at an event in Times Square on Saturday, was scheduled to appear on a radio call-in program Monday night. He and his family watched the game from a luxury box at MetLife Stadium.
Giuliani, who has been one of Christie’s staunchest supporters, took aim at the credibility of Wildstein and Wisniewski during an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Giuliani described Wildstein as a person who “wants somebody else to pay his legal bills and he can’t get them paid unless the governor is responsible.”
He described Wisniewski, a Democrat, as a “guy who’d like to be governor.”
The unannounced lane closures caused massive gridlock in Fort Lee in September, delaying emergency vehicles and school buses and tying up some commuters for hours over four mornings. New Jersey legislators are investigating whether Christie aides engineered the lane closures to send a message to the town’s Democratic mayor. The U.S. attorney’s office also is investigating.
Wisniewski also appeared on “Face the Nation” and defended his role and his previously stated doubts about what Christie knew and when.
“What I’ve said is I have skepticism about the governor’s statement,” he said. “I haven’t said that the governor has responsibility for this. I haven’t said that the governor knew when this was happening.”
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