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Panel Issues 18 More Subpoenas In George Washington Bridge Probe

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A legislative committee investigating the role of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration in September’s lane closures at the George Washington Bridge issued 18 more subpoenas during a meeting Monday.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello, the demands for documents, emails and other information follow 20 other subpoenas issued by the panel last month.

Recipients in the third round of subpoenas include executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that runs the bridge; a failed Supreme Court nominee who Christie later named to the bridge agency; and the state police aviation unit, which could provide information about Christie’s helicopter travel during the time the lanes were blocked for four days in September.

Christie’s office acknowledged Monday that the governor, who travels frequently by helicopter, flew to the state capital after attending a 9/11 anniversary ceremony in New York City. He arrived at the event via ferry, said his spokesman, Colin Reed. The governor’s office said Christie never shared a helicopter with David Wildstein, his former No. 2 man at the Port Authority, who oversaw the lane closings and has since resigned.

A photograph taken at the event — held on the third day the lanes were blocked — shows Christie walking with Wildstein and other close allies at the authority.

The investigative committee also turned up the pressure on two former Christie staffers who have refused to turn over documents. Members ordered former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former campaign manager Bill Stepien to cooperate with the investigation or face possible consequences, including contempt charges.

The two fired aides have said they will not cooperate with the legislative demands to avoid self-incrimination. The panel voted along party lines — the four Republican members abstained — to reject those objections and continue to seek most of the documents and authorized its lawyer to set a new date for compliance after agreeing to minor modifications in the two subpoenas. 

Stepien lawyer Kevin Marino declined to comment Monday. Kelly lawyer Michael Critchley did not return a call for comment.

Documents that were subpoenaed earlier and released showed that Kelly gave the go-ahead to shut down the lanes in Fort Lee, possibly as a political vendetta against the borough’s mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie for re-election.

Last week was the deadline for those people and organizations in the first batch of subpoenas  to return documents. All but a few have sought more time.

The investigative panel’s co-chairman, Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said those who asked to produce documents on a rolling basis were being accommodated.

Christie, who has pledged to cooperate with the probe, said his office was among those producing documents over time.

The panel is trying to figure out why Christie associates orchestrated the operation and who was involved. Christie has denied knowledge of any plot.

Wildstein, who is seeking immunity from prosecution, recently claimed through his lawyer “evidence exists” that Christie knew of the lane closings while they were happening. He did not identify the evidence.

The most recent subpoenas, which could take a couple of days before they are all served, include new members of Christie’s circle and Port Authority employees, as well some subpoenas seeking new information from people and organizations served previously.

One new recipient is Phillip Kwon, a former first assistant attorney general whose nomination to the state Supreme Court was rejected by the Democrat-led judiciary committee after a bitter partisan fight. Christie subsequently appointed Kwon deputy general counsel at the Port Authority at an annual salary of $165,400.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Kwon met with another Christie ally at the Port Authority, former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, before his now-discredited testimony that the lanes were closed for a traffic study. Baroni, who has since resigned and was subsequently subpoenaed for documents, testified before a legislative panel voluntarily and was not under oath.

Meanwhile, a lawyer working for Christie wrote to Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who claims the administration tried to strong-arm her into supporting a real estate development by threatening to withhold superstorm Sandy funds. The letter asks for Zimmer for documents and an interview “to further our mandate from the governor’s office to facilitate cooperation with the U.S. attorney’s investigation and complete an internal review.”

That letter drew an icy refusal from the Zimmer. “We question whether it is appropriate for the governor’s office in essence to be investigating itself,” she responded.

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