Federal prosecutors investigating September's massive and deliberate traffic jam at the foot of the George Washington Bridge want to see the documents gathered by a state committee also probing the mess, another sign that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won’t be free of the Bridgegate story anytime soon.
The two Democratic legislators leading the state committee announced Friday that they would turn over all documents related to the lane closures in Fort Lee, N.J., saying the federal subpoena “reaffirms our progress in uncovering important information about the apparent abuse of government power and threat to public safety.”
investigation appeared to hit a snag of its own two weeks ago when a state judge ruled that two figures in the bridge controversy, including former Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly, didn’t have to hand over their records. It was Kelly who sent the email to David Wildstein, another Christie appointee, saying it was “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
But the committee is pressing forward. Four witnesses have been called to testify. The first two, set for next Tuesday, will be Christina Genovese Renna, who worked as Christie’s director of intergovernmental affairs, and William “Pat” Schuber, a Christie-appointed commissioner on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridges.
Likewise, a federal grand jury has been examining the bridge scandal and other allegations of abusive power tactics by Christie’s administration. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey, Rebekah Carmichael, said she could not comment on the specifics of ongoing investigations. Christie, who is considering a presidential run, ran that office from 2002 to 2008, launching his political career with his aggressive pursuit of public corruption cases.
A law firm hired by Christie did its own internal investigation, interviewing dozens of witnesses and issuing a report that absolved Christie and his inner circle from wrongdoing and pinning the blame on Kelly and Wildstein. But polls have shown most New Jersey voters considered the report a whitewash. The other investigations -- which have already cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees -- continue.
Renna, who was responsible for outreach to other New Jersey officials, will likely face questions about whether her office operated under a culture where supporters were rewarded and officials who declined to endorse Christie’s 2013 re-election -- like Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich -- were punished. Emails show that staffers in that office were asked during the campaign to help line up endorsements from Democratic mayors, on their own time.
Christie, in preparation for a possible presidential run, has tried to foster the opposite reputation, as someone who can rise above mindless partisan squabbling. Asked about that darker image by a supporter during a town hall meeting on Thursday, Christie said it “doesn’t have any basis in fact.”
“If in fact I created a culture where people were going after each other, then how did we do all these things together with Republicans and Democrats?” he said.