N.J. pol: Not "credible" that Chris Christie unaware of bridge closure

The New Jersey assemblyman leading the investigation into the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge is airing his doubts about Gov. Chris Christie’s assertion that he knew nothing about the situation, even though it appeared to be ordered by his staff.

“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,” Thomas Wisniewski, the Democratic head of the New Jersey Assembly’s transportation committee, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday.

Emails and other communications released over the last week indicate that Christie’s staff ordered the closure of several lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September as an apparent retaliation against the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid. As more documents come out, more and more staff have been ensnared in the growing circle of people who knew what was going on.

Christie apologized on Thursday, fired his deputy chief of staff, who ordered the lane closures, and took punitive measures against a former advisor who was also closely involved. He said he had no involvement whatsoever of the real cause of the lane closures, and expressed disappointment in his staff.

But Wisniewski says he doesn’t believe it’s possible the governor didn’t know, especially because he was in the middle of running for reelection as governor and would have wanted to stay apprised of potential problems. Aides who have been linked to the controversy, including the deputy chief of staff, were with Christie the day of the lane closures, he said.

Wisniewski indicated that impeachment may not be out of the question if the committee’s investigation reveals that Christie knew about the lane closures – although he admitted he has no evidence yet of communication that went directly to Christie.

“When you use the George Washington Bridge for what the e-mail showed to be a political payback, that amounts to using public property for a private purpose or political purpose that's not legal. So that constitutes a crime,” he said. “If it becomes known that the governor was involved and he knew about it and he knew about the cover-up, and he was approving the actions taken by his senior staff, that raises serious questions that the assembly ought to look at.  And that ought to be considered in light of what our responsibility is. The Assembly has the ability to do articles of impeachment.”

The matter is also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.

 

 Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who sits on the House Transportation Committee and serves as the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, took a wait-and-see approach to the situation.

“I’ve always been reluctant to get ahead of a situation…we've got at least two investigations going on right now,” he said.

“I got to tell you, though, when I look at Christie’s style --  I don't know him, [but] it's hard to believe that he was blindsided by anything. Because he doesn't come off that way,” he added. 

 

 Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was among the many Republicans standing quietly on the sidelines.

“I think it would be a mistake for me and others like me to comment on this.  First of all, we don't know all the facts.  I think this is a story that's still developing and we should reserve judgment,” he said, adding that that includes delving into “political speculation.”

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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