Ex-Christie campaign staffer testifies before panel probing bridge scandal
May 20th, 2014
12:01 AM ET
9 years ago

Ex-Christie campaign staffer testifies before panel probing bridge scandal

Updated 5:01 p.m. ET, 5/20/2014

Trenton, New Jersey (CNN) - A former campaign staffer for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie testified on Tuesday before a special legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Matt Mowers, who now runs the Republican Party in New Hampshire, is the third witness to testify before panel members at the Statehouse Annex in Trenton.

"Today I sit here dumbfounded and disappointed that the actions seemingly taken by a few rogue individuals has tainted the good work that so many have done on behalf of the residents of New Jersey," Mowers said, adding that he was not involved in or had any prior knowledge of the lane closures.

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Investigators are looking at whether Christie allies orchestrated access lane closures to the nation's busiest bridge in Fort Lee to punish that town's mayor, Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie for reelection.

The lane closures resulted in severe traffic jams over several days last September.

Mowers had also worked in Christie's Intergovernmental Affairs office and was the point of contact with Sokolich, a Democrat.

Records show he met frequently with Sokolich and asked him whether he would be endorsing Christie's campaign.

At the time, Sokolich said he liked Christie, but wouldn't cross party lines.

Sokolich later asked whether the traffic gridlock was payback for not backing Christie, who won reelection handily.

Mowers said Tuesday he was perplexed as to why anyone would have sought retribution against Sokolich.

"I cannot comprehend why anyone would have committed these acts, it just does not make any sense," he said, adding that others in Christie's campaign did not seem "overly interested or concerned" that Sokolich was not backing Christie.

"To my knowledge the campaign never raised the issue with me or the Mayor again," he said.

However, Bridget Kelly, Christie's ex-deputy chief of staff, was interested in Sokolich's support. She called Mowers on August 12, 2013, asking about the status of the endorsement, to which Mowers told her he was certain the endorsement would not happen.

The following day, Kelly fired off the now-infamous email to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority, saying "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

She also emailed Mowers on September 9, the first day of the lane closures, asking if he had heard from Sokolich in a while. He responded that he had not heard from him.

Mowers said that neither the call on August 12 nor the September 9 email seemed out of the ordinary at the time. He said he didn't learn about the traffic gridlock in Fort Lee until after it was over.

In December, Mowers was contacted by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal asking about claims they were politically motivated.

Emails show Mowers contacted Christie's campaign manager at the time, Bill Stepien, and others about the reporter's questions. He asked how this was being handled and said he had no plans to return the reporter's calls unless told otherwise.

Democratic members of the committee hammered the 24-year-old with questions about the blurred lines between governmental work and work of a political nature while he was with the Intergovernmental Affairs office.

Democrats contend that the IGA worked closely with Christie's re-election campaign to seek endorsements from elected officials whose names appeared on a list of 100 mayors that the campaign was focused on.

Mowers maintained that the work he did at the IGA was purely governmental even though the occasional political conversation would take place with a local elected official.

Committee members also quizzed Mowers about his conversations with Sokolich, Stepien and others in Christie's office as they try to figure out who ordered the lane closures and why.

Stepien has waged a successful legal fight to blunt the committee's subpoena for information about the lane closures.

Meanwhile, Republican legislators are once again calling for the committee to suspend its investigation while a federal criminal probe plays out.

Assembly Minority Leader John Bramnick accused the Democrats leading the committee investigation of being politically motivated and pandering to special interests.

"For the past six months they've been searching for why the bridge was closed instead of searching for answers to how to keep the state of New Jersey open two to three to four years down the road," said Bramnick.

Tom Hester, spokesman for the Democratic Majority Office, defended the committee's investigation.

"It seems they're (Republicans) more concerned with protecting the governor's popularity and standing than with helping the middle-class and finding out the truth of what happened with this abuse of power and threat to public safety," said Hester.

Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    Matt Mowers, who now runs the Republican Party in New Hampshire .

    Meanwhile, Republican legislators are once again calling for the committee to suspend its investigation of the Godfather .

    Its starting to sound more and more like a Movie.

    May 20, 2014 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  2. ghost

    They are trying ti misdirect the Country's attention. Justice will be served!!!

    May 20, 2014 01:40 am at 1:40 am |
  3. Monomachos

    If only the DOJ would investigate the IRS scandal with such fervor, the investigation might actually be over by now and we'd know if Lerner is covering for someone or not.

    May 20, 2014 02:50 am at 2:50 am |