Legislators officially join forces on bridge investigation

A majority of respondents in a new poll say it's unlikely that Gov. Chris Christie didn't know about a plan to close lanes to a heavily traveled bridge between New Jersey and New York.
A majority of respondents in a new poll say it's unlikely that Gov. Chris Christie didn't know about a plan to close lanes to a heavily traveled bridge between New Jersey and New York. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Posted: January 29, 2014

TRENTON The Legislature voted unanimously Monday to establish a joint panel to investigate disruptive lane closures in September at the George Washington Bridge, though Republicans continued to voice frustration with the Democrat-led effort.

The decision comes 10 days after the Assembly and Senate created separate special investigatory committees. Those committees were dissolved Monday after Democratic leaders brokered a deal last week to combine their efforts.

Documents obtained and released by legislators this month suggest that Gov. Christie's deputies at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey worked with at least one member of the governor's inner circle to shut down the lanes, perhaps as political payback.

The scandal has consumed the start of the legislative session and created a political headache for Christie, a popular Republican who has not hidden his possible ambitions for the presidency in 2016.

"Who knew what and when did they know it? That's all this is about," Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden) said Monday on the Assembly floor.

The new committee is composed of 12 legislators from both houses: eight Democrats, including Greenwald, and four Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) and Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex) are co-chairs.

While there was universal agreement on the need to continue investigating, Republicans suggested the scope of the inquiry was too broad. They asked, for example, whether the committee would delve into allegations made by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that the Christie administration had tied Sandy relief funds to a development project. Christie's office strongly denies that claim.

Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R., Morris), who is not a member of the new committee, asked how the committee would approach someone such as Zimmer, who has said that she has met with the U.S. Attorney's Office and has been advised not to discuss the matter publicly. Democrats said they would consult their outside special counsel to determine how to proceed in such a scenario.

Republicans, who are the minority party in both houses, also said they were wary of a Democratic-led partisan investigation. All four Republican committee members voted against a resolution to establish the parameters of the investigation, including its power to issue subpoenas.

Wisniewski argued that it was impossible to know what the documents subpoenaed by the panel might reveal. Therefore, he said, it would be unwise to declare certain subject matters, such as the Hoboken controversy, off-limits.

"This investigation started out as an inquiry into the operations and finances of the Port Authority. Following that level of inquiry, we uncovered e-mails that originated from [the governor's office]," Wisniewski said on the Assembly floor. "We can't predict what other information will come before the committee."

This month, the special Assembly panel served subpoenas to 20 organizations and individuals, including some of Christie's top advisers. Wisniewski said Monday that the committee would reissue those subpoenas as a matter of precaution. The recipients have until Feb. 3 to respond.

The new committee has subpoena power through 2016.

Separately, the U.S. Attorney's Office has issued subpoenas to Christie's reelection campaign and the Republican State Committee, seeking information about the lane closures.

In the meantime, at least one legislator expressed hope that the Legislature would continue to legislate.

"We've been down here twice, and both times in the last two weeks were related to the investigation," Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R., Union) told reporters. "I would hope we can move forward with property-tax relief and those other issues."


aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846

@AndrewSeidman

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