TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Some northern New Jersey residents have returned to the scene of a notorious traffic jam that has created a major controversy in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.
About a dozen people took part in a noontime protest Tuesday near the base of the George Washington Bridge, where unannounced lane closures last September snarled traffic and made Fort Lee residents miserable for four days.
Residents who call themselves victims of the Fort Lee lane closures and two progressive activist groups – the Progressive Change Committee and the Working Families Alliance – have collected 14,000 signatures from New Jersey residents calling on Christie to step down if he had knowledge of the bridge lane closures, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“An outpouring of frustration, of anger, and a demand for real accountability from this administration that has so far been lacking,” Bob Duffy with the Working Families Alliance said.
“This bridge is a part of Fort Lee, it’s a part of who we are. But it was used as a tool to hurt us,” lifelong Fort Lee resident Robert Tasera said.
Valerie Fadool of Fort Lee said she sat in traffic for 5 and a half hours during the September lane closures.
“For that reason alone, I am very angry, I am very upset and if Christie had anything to do with this, directly or indirectly, we seek his resignation,” she said. “What Christie did to us was to paralyze our town, he paralyzed the citizens here and this is a total abuse of power.”
Released emails and text messages appear to show the lane closures were ordered by one of Christie’s top aides.
The protest comes a day after a legislative committee investigating the role of the governor’s administration in the incident issued 18 more subpoenas in an effort to find out who knew what and when, including Christie who insists he didn’t know anything about the lane closures.
Christie claims he is innocent and said he pledges his cooperation because he too wants to get to the bottom of what happened.
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.
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.
“None of the three flights transporting the governor during that week flew over, or close to either the George Washington Bridge or Fort Lee, including the flight on 9/11,” the New Jersey State Police said in a statement released Tuesday.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, New Jersey campaign finance regulators have given Christie’s re-election campaign permission to raise money and spend it on complying with the subpoenas.
The Election Law Enforcement Commission voted on the unusual request Tuesday.
Because the Republican governor accepted public matching money for his re-election campaign last year, he was limited to spending $12.2 million.
The campaign came within $13,000 of hitting the limit, so it needed permission to raise and spend more for lawyers, data-mining and fundraising costs to comply with subpoenas. The campaign received the subpoenas last month from the U.S. attorney’s office and a special legislative investigation.
Any money raised for the purpose but not used would have to be handed over to the state government.
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