January 9th, 2014
03:53 PM ET
8 months ago

Ex-official charged with contempt in NJ bridge scandal

Update 5:37 p.m. ET, 1/9/2014

(CNN) – One of the central figures in New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge controversy was charged with contempt by the New Jersey State Assembly on Thursday for refusing to answer questions posed by the committee investigating the scandal.

David Wildstein, former director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent during an appearance before the panel tasked with investigating the bridge access lane closures. Earlier Thursday, a judge compelled Wildstein to appear before the committee in response to its subpoena.

Emails released Wednesday appear to reveal an exchange between Wildstein and a senior aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in which the two decided to close portions of the bridge for political retribution. Due to the threat of criminal investigation, Wildstein’s lawyer Alan Zegas recommended that his client remain silent.

Who is David Wildstein?

"He has the right under both the federal and state constitutions to not give answers that could be used by a prosecutor, were they to charge him, even if they were to charge him wrongly,” said Zegas, who sat next to the former official throughout the panel’s questioning. “So if his answer could furnish an element of proof in a prosecutor’s case, then a person in the position of Mr. Wildstein does not have an obligation to answer."

The panel’s chairman, State Assemblyman John Wisniewski, disagreed with Zegas’ reasoning. Reading aloud from a portion of the New Jersey State Code of Fair Procedure, Wisniewski argued that Wildstein’s answers could not be used against him in any potential trial in the future, and warned that refusing to answer the committee’s questions would place Wildstein in contempt.

“I don’t believe that the legislative immunity would sufficiently protect Mr. Wildstein,” Zegas responded.

After first taking a vote of the panel to determine if the questions posed were “proper and pertinent to the inquiry,” as the law requires, the committee voted to hold Wildstein in contempt, which is a misdemeanor in New Jersey. A spokesman for the committee confirmed that the charge will now be referred to a county prosecutor.

New Jersey Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, who was previously the minority leader in the state Senate, said he thought the legislative investigators in the Assembly could give Wildstein "use immunity" that would allow them to get to the underlying facts about the bridge.

Lance, described "use immunity" as "only for what he says not for facts developed outside of what he said." He said everybody is entitled to the Fifth amendment protection, but a way around that is through this type of immunity.

Lance described himself as one of Christie's "strongest supporters" on the Hill. He told CNN he watched every minute of Christie's news conference and praised the governor for taking "decisive action today."

He waved off any idea that this episode would have any impact on Christie's presidential ambitions because 'he has taken decisive and immediate action."

Lance hasn't spoken to Christie in recent days, but last saw him at a private event on New Year's Eve.

CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.


Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. The Real Tom Paine

    It will be interesting to see how much the caged bird sings.

    January 9, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  2. wmontanye

    They have been friends since high school. He will take the fall for his buddy...

    January 9, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. Wake up People!

    I wonder how many will be thrown under the bus to save Christy.....

    January 9, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  4. Wake up People!

    He will be paid well to keep his mouth shut.

    January 9, 2014 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  5. Gurgyl

    Bunch of scapegoat for the actions and omissions of Criss Christi. Period.

    January 9, 2014 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  6. Vic of New york

    What's Christie got to hide? Sounds like he has is own Nixon style "Plumbers" crew all peading the fifth.

    January 9, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  7. Romney is STILL NOT My Hero

    And Christie Creme gate continues! On this episode a guy gets contempt.

    $100 says Christie threatened to have him whacked if he talked.

    January 9, 2014 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    What a joke. He even invoked the 5th when asked if he was the formerly employed by the Port Authority, etc.

    "“I don’t believe that the legislative immunity would sufficiently protect Mr. Wildstein,” Zegas responded."

    Translation: "Give him full immunity and he'll sing like you kicked is taint."

    January 9, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    There are bigger fish to catch. Offer Wildstein immunity and witness protection relocation for testifying against his boss, Gov Christie.

    January 9, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  10. Ol' Yeller

    "Lance described himself as one of Christie's "strongest supporters" on the Hill. He told CNN he watched every minute of Christie's news conference and praised the governor for taking "decisive action today."

    He waved off any idea that this episode would have any impact on Christie's presidential ambitions because 'he has taken decisive and immediate action."

    See definition 2

    Lance- (noun)- an elongated weapon; often thrown
    2.A tool

    January 9, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    Lerner took the fifth. worked for her even paid leave n great pension n health ins!

    January 9, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    Wildstein: Guilty as charged: Contemptible.

    January 9, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  13. Mopery

    Proof positive that Christie was deeply involved. Everyone involved in this scandal should be charged with manslaughter for disrupting the emergency vehicle from getting to that elderly woman who later died.

    January 9, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  14. pkfops01

    Send the clown to prison for a few years.

    January 9, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  15. Jon

    I hope they throw Christie under the bus, as well as these other peons.

    January 9, 2014 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  16. Lewy

    This individual could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, as it has been reported that an elderly woman died awaiting emergency responders delay by politically motivated traffic congestion.

    January 9, 2014 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  17. Thomas

    New Jersey politics are so corrupt , Corzine or Christie , Republican or Democrat .

    @Vic of New york
    What's Christie got to hide? Sounds like he has is own Nixon style "Plumbers" crew all peading the fifth.

    Fixers , Plumber's , Enforcers , Bagmen .
    Who will be going out for cannoli's ?

    January 9, 2014 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  18. BudW

    He is now toast for 2016

    January 9, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  19. X28one

    Time for some legal problems in New Jersey.

    January 9, 2014 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  20. gahh

    Christie is protected, for now.

    January 9, 2014 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  21. TTommy

    The left shows again why they are such a bunch of mindless, hypocritical drones. They have no problem with Obama's cronies taking the fifth to protect him, but they want blood for this guy taking the 5th. They are hoping SO bad Christy has dirty hands, and my guess is they will all be disappointed. Christy took bold action and actually FIRED someone for bad behavior, something BO would never do. We need strong leaders like Christy who demand accountability, not the milquetoast president we have now.

    January 9, 2014 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  22. John Smith

    Can anyone explain to me why Bridgette was not asked testify at this hearing? She was Christie's stooge and then sent the word to the stooge at the port authority- why not question her?

    January 9, 2014 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  23. belinda

    He is finished.

    January 9, 2014 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  24. bob

    It's a shame that to be a successful politician in the USA that you must be corrupt to the core. Obama is the classic example, being from Chicago, home of the most corrupt political organization in the USA. We, the people, are doomed...

    January 9, 2014 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  25. Hank

    Really this NJ issue is far less of a concern to me than the contempt and corruption going on in the Obama administration. Of course, we all know that the majority of the media hounds are liberals so I expect nothing less than a full crucifiction of Chrisie while Obama and Holder will continue to get false glory for all their evil schemes.

    January 9, 2014 08:03 pm at 8:03 pm |
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