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Tempers Flare Amid Partisan Bickering At ‘Bridgegate’ Committee Hearing

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TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Tempers flared Tuesday as Democrats and Republicans argued about how the New Jersey joint legislative Committee looking into the “Bridgegate” scandal should proceed.

As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, Democrats have warned that they will issue more subpoenas in the scandal, which is threatening Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

The committee has been looking into the infamous lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

Former Christie aides allegedly ordered the closing of two traffic lanes near the bridge last September, resulting in gridlock in the nearby town of Fort Lee to retaliate against Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie in his November re-election bid.

Tuesday’s hearing grew tense when Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Red Bank, attempted to introduce legislation, and committee co-chair Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Sayreville, said it was not appropriate to do so when the investigation process was not over.

As seen on the video of the hearing posted to YouTube by Politicker NJ, Handlin said the committee investigation into the Bridgegate scandal has cost $200,000 so far, and argued that the committee was wasting time and money when it could be solving problems legislatively.

“For every dollar that we spend here, the Port Authority is spending $100 or $1,000 or $10,000 in a way that is completely dysfunctional or even parasitic,” Handlin said. “It’s been going on for years. We all know that. But more to the point, this committee has been willfully allowing it to go on for the 82 days that we have been in existence. So that’s 82 days’ worth of waste and arrogance that we could have put a stop to and did not. So we can earn our keep today by taking some immediate action to reform the Port Authority.”

Handlin went on to produce a pile of reform bills, for some of which she said Wisniewski, himself, had been a sponsor.

“What on earth is stopping us from moving forward on this legislation today?” Handlin said. “We’re legislators. It’s our job to move forward with legislation.”

Wisniewski took issue with Handlin and said the committee’s investigative work into how the lane closures happened was not complete. Thus, Wisniewski said, it was not appropriate to begin introducing legislation to fix a problem that had not been identified.

“To showboat here – to talk about how we can now put forward legislation today — Assemblywoman, we’re not done with our work,” Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski also questioned Handlin’s motives.

“Maybe you don’t want to prevent it from happening again,” Wisniewski said. “Maybe you’re content with the way the governor’s office treats the Port Authority as just another desk in the governor’s office. I’m not. But until we know exactly how this happened, we’re not in a position to stop it from happening again.”

Later, Sen. Kevin O’Toole, R-Wayne, took Wisniewski to task over his remarks to Handlin.

“I think that to use politically charged words like ‘showboat,’ I don’t think anybody here that knows Amy would say she’s showboating,” O’Toole said, adding Handlin’s motives in introducing legislation were “sincere.”

Wisniewski retorted that O’Toole had told him before the meeting that Handlin had wished to make an “opening statement” before the committee went into executive session, but instead Handlin sprang legislative proposals on the committee and encouraged action on them.

“You deliberately misrepresented — deliberately misrepresented — what was happening in this meeting,” Wisniewski told O’Toole.

“No, I take exception to that charge, Chair. I did not,” O’Toole retorted. “I got that that literally 30 seconds ago, the resolution, and all (Handlin) simply asked is that we consider bipartisan bills. Don’t tell me that I’m deliberately misrepresenting.”

Meanwhile, Wisniewski said the committee still does not have the names of the people that Christie’s attorney interviewed in a $1 million internal probe that cleared Christie of having prior knowledge of the lane closures.

“This is just my understanding – I don’t have any independent corroboration – is that there were no transcripts made of these interviews,” Wisniewski said in an interview.

“They haven’t even released the names of the people they interviewed,” committe co-chair Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond. “How can you make any judgment about these reports.”

The committee has ordered the Gibson Dunn law firm to hand over the documents by the end of the week.

The panel is also considering how to proceed as the U.S. attorney’s office appears to be stepping up its investigation of the lane closures.

“They have a mission to enforce the law,” Wisniewski said. “We have a mission to understand what happened and prescribe a remedy to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

The report that followed the internal probe by Christie’s office finds former Port Authority official David Wildstein and ex-Christie aide Bridget Kelly were behind the closures.

“It is going to take a long time to get to the bottom of what happened at Bridgegate,” Handlin said in an interview. “We may never know what really happened.”

Wisniewski said the committee is looking through thousands of documents to see if Christie’s text messages and emails of were included, and the committee members will issue subpoenas to Christie’s attorneys if they do not get what they want by the end of the week.

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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.)