N.J. Democrats not letting up on Chris Christie bridge scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference on Jan. 9, 2014, when he apologized for the bridge closure and fired a top aide. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) Matt Rourke, AP

Updated at 2:55 p.m.

The fallout from the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal shows no signs of letting up anytime soon with the news that New Jersey Democrats are launching a special investigative committee to widen their probe into the role of Gov. Chris Christie, R- N.J., and his staffers.

According to the Washington Post, the committee “will look into a wide variety of issues related to the closures and Gov. Chris Christie’s staff.” It will be led by state assemblyman John Wisniewski, the chairman of the transportation committee whose initial investigation produced the emails linking Christie’s staff to the lane closures in Fort Lee, N.J., as apparent retaliation against the city’s Democratic mayor who refused to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.

Although Christie said he had no knowledge of the actions taken by his aide and allies to shut down access lanes to the bridge until it was revealed in a news story last week, Wisniewski remains unconvinced he’s guilt free.

 

“I don't think it's credible for the governor to have his chief of staff, his communication director, his deputy chief of staff, his chief counsel all involved in email communications on the day this took place and the days after, talking not only about the problems that were created in Fort Lee, but also talking about how to spin it to the press,” Wisniewski said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Although Wisniewski plans to renew and expand the subpoena powers of the legislature, according to the Post, it’s unclear this will help him uncover further information. A subpoena for documents from David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who resigned amid an uproar after the lane closures, implicated Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly and former campaign manager Bill Stepien. Christie fired Kelly and took steps to curb Stepien’s political career last week.

 

 But Wisniewski failed to get more information about the documents when he used a subpoena to compel Wildstein to appear before his committee Friday, when Wildstein refused to answer any questions by asserting his Fifth Amendment rights. The committee voted to hold him in contempt.

Whether Wisniewski will be able to compel any other current or former Christie officials to cooperate with his questions has yet to be seen.

Beyond the first document dump that highlighted Kelly and Stepien’s roles, thousands more pages released by Wisniewski’s committee on Friday showed a wide circle of Christie’s close advisors were informed about the traffic jams and involved in containing the fallout.

Christie opponents point to a culture of political retribution against those who were seen as insufficiently supportive of the governor. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, a Democrat, claimed last year that his meetings with top commissioners in the administration were canceled around the date that he declined to endorse Christie’s reelection. Documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal show Christie’s administration arranged meetings for Fulop that were later abruptly canceled with no explanation, and that emails from Fulop to Stepiens – then the campaign manager for Christie’s reelection – went unanswered.

"I am not sure if it is a coincidence that your office canceled a meeting several weeks back that seemed to be simultaneous to other political conversations," he wrote in one message reported by the Journal. "Prior to that you were always very responsive and I sincerely hope the two issues are not related."

"We've continued to work with Jersey City over the course of time since he's been mayor," Christie said when asked about Fulop during his mea culpa press conference last week. He was also asked the charges of political bullying.

 

 "I am not a focus-group tested, blow-dried candidate or governor," Christie said, arguing he was merely passionate about issues. "I am who I am but I am not a bully."

A new Pew Research Center poll out Monday shows that 16 percent of people have a less favorable opinion of Christie after the recent revelations, and 6 percent have a more favorable view. Sixty percent say their opinion of him is unchanged.

He had his fair share of Republican defenders on the airwaves Sunday, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., former New York City Mayor Rudy Giulianiand Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who all argued that the governor had no knowledge of the incident and that there would be no further revelations.

But others, including several Democrats as well as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., were more cautious and declined to weigh in. “I think it would be a mistake for me and others like me to comment on this,” Rubio said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “First of all, we don't know all the facts. I think this is story that is still developing and we should reserve judgment.”

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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