TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — An aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday that she did not alert any of her bosses when she learned about the closure of lanes leading up to the George Washington Bridge in part because she believed someone else was trying to get to the bottom of it.
Regina Egea testified before a legislative panel that is investigating the closures, which appear to have been carried out for political retribution and have become a major distraction for Christie, a possible 2016 Republican presidential contender.
She was forwarded an email last September from Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, ordering that the lanes be reopened and suggesting that their closure may have broken the law.
Egea said the authority’s deputy director, Christie appointee Bill Baroni, called her, explained the situation and then forwarded the email from Foye.
As WCBS 880’s Monica Miller reported, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a co-chairman of the committee, asked her if she thought closing lanes was something the Port Authority might be involved with. She said it was.
“That they would do traffic studies, absolutely, and that they would look for ways to enhance the customer experience,” said Egea, who said she normally would not get involved with what she called operational issues at the independent and semi-independent authorities she oversees such as the Port Authority, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and New Jersey Transit.
She said she understood the accusations from Foye, an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as part of a dispute between the two states’ contingents, something that was common.
She also said she did not feel a need to investigate further because Foye was reviewing what happened. Some committee members blasted her for not following up on that report — which has never been produced.
“So you just thought this was bad blood between New York and New Jersey and didn’t deserve any further inquiry?” Wisniewski asked.
“It wasn’t that it was going to be further inquiry, that the executive director made the allegation, and he said he was going to review it,” Egea responded.
“I have been bothered for a long time about the curious lack of curiosity,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat and co-chair of the committee. Egea later said she should have had a date in mind to ask for such a report from Foye.
Egea testified that during a December legislative hearing about the lane closures — like others in the administration, she called them a “realignment” — she texted Christie about testimony from Port Authority officials, including complimenting the professionalism of one of them.
But she said she deleted the messages, and said she was inconsistent about which messages she saved and which she did not.
Weinberg asked whether she purged those messages before or after the story erupted into a major distraction.
“I don’t know,” Egea said. “I believe it was before, but I don’t know.”
She told the panel that the December hearing made her realize that abruptly closing lanes was not the only way to study new traffic patterns, a method Baroni had defended. “The testimony on the 9th certainly caused me to question the deputy’s judgment,” she said.
Egea is the fifth member of Christie’s administration to testify before the legislative panel, but she may be the last for a while.
She was one of 13 people on a list of potential witnesses the committee compiled last month. Wisniewski said the U.S. attorney’s office, which is also probing what happened, advised the lawmakers’ lawyer not to call about half the people on the list, at least for now.
No one else has been sent a subpoena to appear, and no other committee hearings are scheduled.
Before Thursday’s hearing, Republicans lawmakers reiterated their concerns that the legislative probe is focused on politics rather than fact-finding and that it’s not accomplishing anything.
“It appears that the U.S. attorney is trying to turn off the John Wisniewski show,” Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick said. “But John Wisniewski doesn’t want to turn off the lights.”
Even during the hearing, there was sparring. When one member left, Sen. Kevin O’Toole, a Republican, asked whether it was proper to go ahead with only half of the committee’s 12 members. A lawyer for the Legislature said the hearing could continue, though no votes could be taken.
Also Thursday, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said at an unrelated news conference that media reports on where his office stands on its investigation are “almost entirely incorrect.” He didn’t specify which reports he meant.
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