The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane-closures wants to see the documents, notes and recordings used by Gov. Chris Christie’s attorneys to compile its recent report or the panel will issue subpoenas to get the material.
The committees’ co-chairs, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats, made that announcement after the panel met behind closed doors today at the Statehouse in Trenton. They said the deadline for receiving the documents is this Friday.
The committee did not issue any more subpoenas today, but they are also crafting plans for another round of live testimony from people connected with the scandal in which GWB access lanes were shut down in September in an apparent play for political retribution against the mayor of tiny Fort Lee, N.J.
Wisniewski said Christie’s attorneys have “indicated a desire to work with our counsel, but that indication has stopped short of yes, here they are or yes, they will be delivered tomorrow.”
He added that he does not believe there are transcripts or audio recordings of the approximately 70 interviews that took place, but they are looking for memos of the interviews as well as text messages and other documents, some from the governor himself.
As the U.S. Attorney’s criminal investigation proceeds, some Republicans say this investigative committee is now a waste of taxpayer money, but the co-chair Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski stressed his committee is going nowhere.
“Our responsibility as a committee is to develop an understanding of how the politically motivated lane closures could have happened and then develop the legislative response we need and we deem appropriate to make sure that type of action and abuse of power never happens again,” Wisniewski said.
This hearing was the first since Christie’s lawyers issued a report of their internal investigation last month, a document that cleared the tough-talking governor of having any knowledge of the politically motivated lane closures until after they happened. Tuesday, Wisniewski said anyone who “suggests” that report “provides all of the information that we need to know is to frankly deliberately ignore its critical deficiencies, which are numerous.”
“To suggest the U.S. Attorney’s work will suffice is to deliberately ignore the strictly criminal focus of the U.S. Attorney’s probe and the limited public disclosure that goes along with it,” Wisniewski said before going into closed session. “This committee and this state still does not have a clear understanding of how this happened and there are still people and there are still documents we can gather to review and enhance our understanding.”
Wisniewski said only when the investigation is completed will they “be in a position to put forward a remedy in the form of legislation that we can embrace and move through this legislature.”
Amy Handlin, a Republican assemblywoman and member of the committee, disagreed, saying legislation to reform the Port Authority should be put forward now. She noted the committee has already racked up $200,000 in legal bills.
“I don’t understand why we can’t move forward to change dysfunctional behaviors that everyone has known about for at least a decade until we are able to finger culprits in the Bridgegate scandal,” Handlin said. “I want to get to the bottom of the Bridgegate scandal as much as anybody, but I believe I owe it to my constituents and to all the citizens of New Jersey to move as quickly as I can to stop those things from ever happening again.”
The governor’s office had no immediate response. Christie is in St. Louis today fundraising for the Republican Governor’s Association, where he serves as chairman.