The New Jersey Assembly and state Senate have voted to join forces on their separate investigations into the involvement of Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.,and his staff in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal.
The two chambers had previously pursued separate investigations, but voted unanimously Monday to create a joint special committee of 12 legislators. Two Democrats, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who had been the leaders of the investigation in their respective chambers, will head the panel. It includes four Republicans.
The bridge scandal erupted earlier this month when a series of emails and other messages revealed that some of Christie’s top aides appeared to have orchestrated the lane closures as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who did not endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Christie apologized, fired one of the aides, and took steps to punish another who was no longer employed by him, but it was not enough undo the damage. The U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey and Senate Commerce Committee are conducting their own investigations (though the Senate committee announced theirs before the emails were revealed), and the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, N.J., alleged that Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadango,threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy relief funds if she did not back a particular reconstruction project.
“Throughout the earlier stages of this investigation, it became clear that for every answer we uncovered, many more questions arose,” Wisniewski saidMonday, according to the New York Daily News. “Forming this joint committee is the best way to streamline and expedite our inquiry in order to obtain the answers we need to prevent future abuses of power.”
Separately, the Newark Star-Ledger editorial board called on Christie to step down from his position as the head of the Republican Governors Association, which involves extensive travel, so he can focus on his state duties, which may already be short-changed by the multiple lines of investigation into his administration.
The paper acknowledged that the governor was unlikely to take their advice, “because running the RGA allows him to raise tons of money that he can use to win new friends. Stepping down would deal another blow to his battered hopes for a presidential run in 2016.”
“But didn’t he just say in his inaugural address that he felt a ‘solemn obligation’ to ‘work every day, night and day — to make New Jersey all it can be?’” they wrote. “Christie is now fending off two major investigations. Several members of his senior staff have received subpoenas and will have to testify before legislative committees in the George Washington Bridge scandal. That is time consuming and distracting.”