New subpoenas heading out in N.J. bridge probe

Cochair John S. Wisniewski
Cochair John S. Wisniewski
Posted: February 12, 2014

TRENTON New Jersey lawmakers said Monday that they would issue new subpoenas as part of their investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures allegedly carried out as political payback by allies of Gov. Christie.

At a meeting Monday afternoon, leaders of the special committee probing the closures would not identify the subpoena recipients, who had not yet been served.

But a list obtained by The Inquirer and other news outlets Monday evening names 18 individuals and organizations, including the state police aviation unit, which keeps records of Christie's helicopter travel.

The committee hopes to learn with whom the governor traveled around the time of the lane closures, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. Individuals who fly in the helicopter with the governor are generally close to him, the person noted, and the records could indicate whom Christie was conversing with during that time.

The New York Post first reported Monday about the committee's interest in the helicopter records.

Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), the committee cochair, would not comment at a news conference Monday on what lawmakers were seeking. "We're going to wait until all the documents are served," he said, "and then we'll fill you in on the details of who got served what."

Christie has said he was unaware of any plot to create gridlock in Fort Lee and learned of the September lane closures after they were over through news accounts. He has said his office was complying with a subpoena from the U.S. attorney, who is also investigating the closures.

Others on the subpoena list - provided to The Inquirer by a source familiar with the investigation - include additional Christie aides, and officials and assistants at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Among the Port Authority names is Phillip Kwon, deputy general counsel. Kwon was nominated by Christie to the state Supreme Court, but blocked by Democrats in the Legislature.

The person familiar with the investigation noted that Kwon helped prepare Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority, to testify before an Assembly panel about the lane closures.

Baroni resigned after testifying that the closures were part of a traffic study - an explanation disputed by the agency's executive director, an appointee of the New York governor.

An agency spokesman told the Wall Street Journal this month that Kwon performed a "routine function" in advising Baroni.

Some on the list have received previous subpoenas. The person familiar with the probe said the subpoenas sought new information based on evidence the committee has already reviewed.

Lawmakers also indicated Monday that they would fight refusals by two former officials - a top aide and a close political adviser to Christie - to turn over documents subpoenaed as part of the probe.

After meeting for more than two hours in closed session, the committee voted to compel dismissed former aide Bridget Anne Kelly and adviser Bill Stepien to produce records subpoenaed by the committee. Both Kelly and Stepien have invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The motions included authorizing special counsel "to take all necessary steps" to force Kelly and Stepien to comply with the subpoenas. After the vote, Wisniewski and cochair Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) did not comment on what those steps could entail.

"We feel we're on very solid ground," Weinberg said.

All four Republicans on the 12-member committee abstained from votes on the motions, saying they had not had adequate time to review the material.

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R., Bergen) said after the meeting that the closed-door session with special counsel Reid Schar had been "an incredibly productive meeting," but she had not felt prepared to vote on motions handed out that afternoon.

Wisniewski did not comment on the reasons for the Republican abstentions, but said the constitutional issues had been "amply" addressed during the session with Schar.

"There are no Democratic or Republican facts here - just the facts," Wisniewski said.

"Someone in the governor's office issued an e-mail," he said. But "we don't know why it was sent, or under whose authorization."

Christie fired Kelly last month after the release of documents showing she had sent an e-mail in August that read, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." The e-mails showed Stepien mocking the Fort Lee mayor.

Stepien's lawyer, Kevin Marino, said Monday that he and Stepien had given the panel "a detailed explanation of our constitutional and common-law objections to the subpoena."

"If the committee asks a court to enforce that subpoena despite its legal infirmities, we will bring those objections to the court's attention," Marino said in an e-mailed statement.

Michael Critchley, a lawyer for Kelly, did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority, also invoked the Fifth Amendment in declining to testify before the committee last month, though he did produce documents - including the e-mails implicating Kelly and Stepien.

The committee voted to find Wildstein in contempt and referred the matter to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office. The status of that referral was unclear Monday.

Kelly and Stepien were among 20 individuals and organizations subpoenaed by lawmakers in January. Responses were due earlier this month, but the committee granted numerous extensions.

Wisniewski would not comment Monday on how many responses the committee had received.

Of the new subpoenas, Wisniewski said he and Weinberg had not yet signed the subpoenas and would not disclose names until the recipients were served, likely Tuesday.

609-989-8990 @maddiehanna

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