N.J. bridge panel to hear more testimony, Republicans ponder alternative theory
May 19th, 2014
07:47 AM ET
7 months ago

N.J. bridge panel to hear more testimony, Republicans ponder alternative theory

(CNN) – A New Jersey legislative committee investigating the orchestrated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge will hear more testimony on Tuesday.

Matt Mowers, a former campaign staffer for Gov. Chris Christie who now runs the New Hampshire GOP, will be the third person to testify under oath in Trenton as lawmakers look into allegations of abuse of authority.

While the committee already heard from Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak and former staffer Christina Renna, committee members are no closer to learning who gave the order to realign lanes at the toll plaza than they were before they began hearing testimony.

That has Republican members of the committee frustrated over the investigation's pace and process.
"We've spent uncounted millions of dollars and uncounted hours to secure documents and testimony of people who clearly were not involved," said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, one of four Republicans on the joint bipartisan committee.

Schepisi complains that Democrats who lead the committee are calling on people who have no knowledge of the execution of the lane closures or what precipitated the realignment.

As the Christie campaign’s point of contact for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, Mowers actively sought the Democrat's endorsement. According to Christie’s internal investigation, Mowers went to his boss, campaign manager Bill Stepien, and others as soon as a Wall Street Journal reporter asked him about the bridge lane closures.

"What are we going to find out from Matt Mowers? He has said he has no knowledge with respect to what happened," Schepisi said.

"We will not rush to judgment," said Assemblyman John Wisniewksi, Democratic co-chair of the Select Committee on Investigation. "We will continue to work methodically and deliberatively until we are confident we have a clear understanding of how this abuse of power came to happen…and are able to assure the public that it will never happen again."

Wisniewski pointed out that the committee has heard from only two people so far, yet the hearings already "produced testimony that undermines the credibility of the governor's own report on the lane closures and the governor's statements about when he first learned about his administration's involvement."

Republican members of the committee are pressing Wisniewksi and Democratic co-chair state Sen. Loretta Weinberg to subpoena people who were working at the bridge when the lane closures took place in September. Schepisi also wants the committee to hear from Sokolich. The mayor, a Democrat, questioned whether the traffic jam in his town was created because he wouldn't endorse Christie's re-election campaign.

But Schepisi has an alternative theory. She points to an email that Mayor Sokolich sent to former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee, pleading for help with gridlock in Fort Lee. As he asked for Port Authority police to man intersections in his town Sokolich wrote on November 9th, 2010 that if they didn't get some help from the agency, "we find ourselves with no other alternative other than to direct the Chief of Police to completely close off our local roads" to traffic from outside Fort Lee heading to the George Washington Bridge.

"This is an action that I would rather not take; however, we find ourselves with no other alternative," wrote Sokolich.

Schepisi wonders if this email is one of many in a prolonged exchange that turned into a tit-for-tat with David Wildstein of the Port Authority, the alleged architect of the lane closures, ultimately taking action against Sokolich out of some sort of personal animus.

"How many conversations were had prior to and after this letter between the Port Authority and Fort Lee to discuss these traffic issues?" asked Schepisi.

Emails from the Port Authority's chief traffic engineer and others at the agency show that in August they were making plans for a lane realignment at the toll plaza.

Republican members of the committee believe the only way they'll get the answers they seek is if they hear from Sokolich and people who were working at the bridge at the time.

Wisniewksi said that many of the specific people the Republicans asked the committee to call already testified under oath at the end of last year and that testimony is part of the public record. As for Sokolich, Wisniewksi said the mayor is a victim of whatever happened, and while they may speak to him in the future "he can only offer speculation about what happened and how."

The committee may never find out who gave the order to close the lanes and why because Wildstein and Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights. The two had a now-infamous email exchange in which Kelly wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," and Wildstein replied, "Got it."


Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    I want the Dems to go Benghaziish on this situation. If you don't get the answers you want, keep digging until you do!!

    Benghazi baby!!! IRS we're coming for you too for doing your JOB!!!

    Benghazi baby!!!

    May 19, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  2. The REAL Truth...

    The governor who appears to have no knowledge of what's going on in his own office of some 20 people, thinks it won't impact his political aspirations, yet the GOP is of the opinion that THIS POTUS should be intimately familiar with EVERYTHING all 5 million Federal employees are doing every second of the day all around the world. Can you say juvenile hypocrisy???

    May 19, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  3. Pandamonius

    George
    "Aren't liberal and democrats funny. Here you have an issue that has been proven that Christi knew nothing about and it only affects a tiny portion of the US population and yet the libs are pounding away hoping to find something"
    ---------------–

    Sounds almost like all the Benghazi witch hunts, only the bridge scandal is actually more relevant.

    May 19, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    George
    "Aren't liberal and democrats funny. Here you have an issue that has been proven that Christi knew nothing about and it only affects a tiny portion of the US population and yet the libs are pounding away hoping to find something"
    -----------------------------------
    It has not been proven that Christie knew nothing. Christie's self-exoneration is unreliable at best. It was conducted by his friend, who was paid millions to do it, and they didn't even interview the critical players.

    BTW, your depraved indifference to a "tiny portion of the US population" is very troubling.

    May 19, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  5. Donna

    While the committee already heard from Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak and former staffer Christina Renna, committee members are no closer to learning who gave the order to realign lanes at the toll plaza than they were before they began hearing testimony.
    That has Republican members of the committee frustrated over the investigation's pace and process.
    "We've spent uncounted millions of dollars and uncounted hours to secure documents and testimony of people who clearly were not involved," said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, one of four Republicans on the joint bipartisan committee.
    Schepisi complains that Democrats who lead the committee are calling on people who have no knowledge of the execution of the lane closures or what precipitated the realignment.
    ----

    A multi-million dollar Democrat witchhunt designed to smear Christie. And it all started righ twhen polls were showing Chistie beating Hillary Clinton in the polls. What a co-inky-dink!

    May 19, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  6. Dean

    Pandamonius

    George
    "Aren't liberal and democrats funny. Here you have an issue that has been proven that Christi knew nothing about and it only affects a tiny portion of the US population and yet the libs are pounding away hoping to find something"
    -----–

    Sounds almost like all the Benghazi witch hunts, only the bridge scandal is actually more relevant.
    ___________

    I must have missed something...how many died in this bridge incident?

    May 19, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  7. AnneM

    I'm tired of the parties bickering like little children while not getting anything done (for the USA). For this county to run smoothly, they need to work together – they can but choose not to.
    Our politicians need to spend more time making the USA better but they'd rather use a lot of hot air telling others what to do. The USA is not in charge of the world but our politicians are arrogant jerks who think they do while the world laughs at them (which is why they are no longer good example for others). I agree with the war on terrorism but don't agree that our politicians think they can run other countries for them. When our politicians speak these days, they are not taken seriously because they have traveled too far off in left field. They need to back off with their power hungry ideas and lead the people of the USA like they are supposed to. Maybe then we can be good examples again. This is what being a leader is. We need to be a leader IN the world not OF the world. Our politicians have become a disgrace and embarrassment to the citizens of the USA and that needs to change big time. I know we vote them in but some politicians just "interview well" then we are stuck with them for 4 years – but here we can see Christie as someone we should steer clear of.

    May 19, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  8. Southern Shottie

    @ Wake Up People...I agree, Baby! As long as information is stonewalled or overly redacted, keep it alive until the TRUTH is exposed! Eh?

    May 19, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  9. Thomas

    Matt Mowers, a former campaign staffer for Gov. Chris Christie who now runs the New Hampshire GOP.

    That say's it all ,the rats have jumped on to a new boat .

    The only way out of this for Christie is to cook his way out , share his secrets to healthy dinning and his famous Hoboken BBQ wings and things secret souse .

    May 19, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  10. just asking

    will the nj demorcat party pay for the millions in costs for this witch hunt when it finds that christie didn't know about or participate in the bridge closing prank? why should the nj taxpayers have to pay for their political bs?

    May 19, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    "A multi-million dollar Democrat witchhunt designed to smear Christie. And it all started righ twhen polls were showing Chistie beating Hillary Clinton in the polls. What a co-inky-dink!"
    ----------------------------------
    The only problem with your conspiracy theory is that the story was broken by a decisively conservative newspaper.

    May 19, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  12. NATHAN WIMBERLY

    Can't wait to see Thom Tillis,Sheldon Adelson,Rupert Mourdoch,Rove,Grover Norquist and the GOP stuff Jeb Bush down the tea party's throats EXACTLY like they stuffed Romney down.The drumbeat is getting louder. Crickets for Christie.

    May 19, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  13. Sniffit

    "And it all started righ twhen polls were showing Chistie beating Hillary Clinton in the polls. What a co-inky-dink!"

    And it all started right when emails surfaced showing, without any doubt or room for argument, that Christie's closest aids and his appointee to the Authority had been engaged in an extremely wrongful abuse of power that involved many potential federal crimes. What a co-inky-dink!

    FIFY

    May 19, 2014 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  14. Sniffit

    "will the nj demorcat party pay for the millions in costs for this witch hunt when it finds that christie didn't know about or participate in the bridge closing prank"

    Right after the GOP/Teatrolls pay for 50+ symbolic votes to repeal the ACA and their witchhunts on Benghazi, the IRS, NSA and Fast and Furious...none of which have resulted in the GOP/Teatrolls proving their desperate and repeated accusations that Obama was directly involved in any of it.

    May 19, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    "The only problem with your conspiracy theory is that the story was broken by a decisively conservative newspaper."

    Indeed. One that that endorsed him and was so angry about this mess that they expressed regret over having done so.

    May 19, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  16. Malory Archer

    just asking
    will the nj demorcat party pay for the millions in costs for this witch hunt when it finds that christie didn't know about or participate in the bridge closing prank?

    +++++++

    When the national repug party pays for all of the witch hunts that are Benghazi and IRS "scandals".

    ************************

    why should the nj taxpayers have to pay for their political bs?

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Why should Federal taxpayers on the hook for all of the political bs being rehashed for the 50th time by the reds?

    May 19, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  17. The REAL Truth...

    @Donna – A multi-million dollar Democrat witchhunt designed to smear Christie. And it all started righ twhen polls were showing Chistie beating Hillary Clinton in the polls. What a co-inky-dink!
    ------------------------
    Such a co-inky dink that Benghazi and the IRS came up during an election year that the GOP had hoped their stunning set of clowns stood a chance, but since the SCOTUS couldn't rule again, they go shellacked. It's incredibly naive to believe that all of these so-called scandals are anything but political theater..

    May 19, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  18. david saint

    lol they can spend millions and millions of dollars on 8 hearings into Benghazi, finding nothing new in between...but they are outraged over the spending for this?!?! lol ah the hypocrisy of the right, aint it grand.

    May 19, 2014 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  19. Bill, Bloomington Il

    It is grand David. four deaths are marginalized by the left but now a traffic snarl that is important

    May 19, 2014 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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