TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey legislators announced the creation of a new committee, with subpoena power and a special counsel, to press an investigation into who ordered lanes closed on the George Washington Bridge last fall — and what Gov. Chris Christie knew about it.
Democratic leaders in the state Assembly said the committee will begin with the bridge closure and possibly expand to look into other allegations of “abuse of power” by Christie, considered one of the early favorites for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
The panel will include Republicans as well as Democrats and have its own budget, although the details haven’t been set yet, said Vincent Prieto, the incoming Assembly speaker.
The panel will be headed by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who has been pressing the investigation through the Transportation Committee. He said he has doubts about Christie’s claim in a two-hour news conference Thursday that until last week he had been in the dark about the impetus for lane closures.
Documents last week showed that several top Christie allies exchanged emails celebrating the traffic hassles and expressing anger about the lanes being reopened by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s appointees on the bi-state Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The traffic closures created four days of nightmarish traffic jams in Fort Lee, the town at the New Jersey end of the bridge, angering motorists and delaying emergency vehicles. Christie’s officials said the idea was to study traffic patterns, but no evidence of such a study has emerged.
“When you have so many people in his upper-level senior circle who received information about the fallout, the traffic jams, and the effort to spin the traffic jams … it strains credibility to say that all of the senior people whose job it is to keep the governor informed did absolutely nothing with these emails,” Wisniewski said at a news conference here Monday.
One of the first witnesses to be called is expected to be Bridget Kelly, the deputy chief of staff fired by Christie last week after the release of an email she sent last summer to a Christie insider at the Port Authority: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
There has been speculation that the motive was to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie’s bid for reelection. Wisniewski noted that news reports have mentioned other possible connections, including a huge real-estate development planned for an area very near the bridge. “It all points to a different motive,” he said. “We need to get to the bottom of why Bridget Kelly thought she had the authority to get the lanes closed,” Wisniewski said. “We don’t know, but we need to find out.”