Christie staffer says she left bridge inquiry to others

Regina Egea, a senior Christie administration official, covers a microphone as she listens to attorney Michael Martinez. She testified Thursday before a legislative panel investigating the bridge scandal.
Regina Egea, a senior Christie administration official, covers a microphone as she listens to attorney Michael Martinez. She testified Thursday before a legislative panel investigating the bridge scandal. (MEL EVANS / AP)
Posted: July 19, 2014

TRENTON - The New Jersey legislative panel investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures pressed a senior Christie administration official Thursday to explain why she didn't aggressively pursue allegations that the resulting traffic jams involved possible wrongdoing.

As the hearing proceeded in Trenton, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said at an event in Newark that media reports describing his office's investigation into the lane closures "have been almost entirely incorrect."

In what may be the panel's last chance to square off with the administration, legislators focused their questioning on a Sept. 13 e-mail composed by Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which alleged that the lane closures were illegal.

Foye sent the e-mail to several Port Authority officials, including Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director, who was appointed by Gov. Christie. Baroni forwarded the e-mail to Regina Egea, director of the Authorities Unit in the governor's office.

Egea said her responsibilities included overseeing the state's 53 authorities and commissions and to make sure they complied with state law.

"Bill and I spoke about the allegations, which are serious," Egea told legislators Thursday. "He indicated that he disagreed with the assessment of the executive director."

Baroni, Egea said, indicated that the lane closures were part of a traffic study led by the New Jersey side of the Port Authority.

Since then, legislators have subpoenaed documents that cast doubt on the traffic-study theory. Rather, the documents show Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Port Authority official David Wildstein coordinating an apparent plot to create "traffic problems" in Fort Lee, Bergen County.

'Be wary'

In addition to the legislative inquiry, federal prosecutors are investigating the lane closures. The U.S. Attorney's Office has asked the panel at least temporarily to hold off on calling additional witnesses.

During an unrelated news conference Thursday, Fishman was asked about a June article in Esquire magazine that said indictments were "near certain," citing unnamed sources.

"I will say this: Reports in the press that purport to describe what I might be thinking or what the people who are working on that matter might be thinking or contemplating have been almost entirely incorrect," Fishman said, according to the Newark Star-Ledger.

"And you should be wary of reports that attribute, for attribution or otherwise, what we're thinking or what we're doing."

Christie's chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd, and three other administration officials already have testified before the legislative committee.

Foye, an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said in his e-mail that he would "get to the bottom of this abusive decision," and Egea said Thursday that she told Baroni to cooperate with Foye's review.

Egea said she didn't ask Foye about his claims because she didn't have a relationship with him.

Lawmakers appeared confounded that Egea didn't speak with Foye or take the allegations to her superiors.

"These were pretty serious allegations. This is the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey making allegations that laws were broken," Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen), cochair of the committee, said during the hearing. "You did not think it was part of your responsibility to speak to the executive director?"

Egea responded that she expected Baroni to cooperate with Foye. She also rejected the suggestion that she didn't take Foye's allegations seriously.

Rather, Egea said, she wanted to see proof of wrongdoing before pressing further.

Egea, who is set to become Christie's next chief of staff, added that it was common for Foye and Baroni to have "areas of disagreement," such as on personnel decisions and the advancement of projects.

Egea said she read the e-mail in this context. Others who have testified before the panel also have noted tension between the New York and New Jersey sides of the Port Authority.

'I don't know'

Egea later testified that during a December legislative hearing about the lane closures, she texted Christie about testimony from Port Authority officials, including complimenting the professionalism of one of them.

But she said that she deleted the messages and that 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."


aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846

@AndrewSeidman

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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