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N.J. traffic jam panel may issue more subpoenas

Gov. Chris Christie has maintained he did not know what his associates were up to while he was seeking re-election last September. (Associated Press)

By ANGELA DELLI SANTI
The Associated Press

4/9/2014

TRENTON, N.J.  — A New Jersey legislative committee investigating politically motivated traffic jams created by Gov. Chris Christie's aides will subpoena additional documents if the governor's lawyers refuse to hand over the requested material, the committee co-chair said Tuesday.

A New York law firm hired by the Christie administration to review the traffic-blocking operation was given until Friday to turn over notes from interviews cited in a report clearing the governor of advance knowledge of the scheme to create traffic problems at the George Washington Bridge.

Lawyers from the firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, interviewed 70 people, including Christie, and concluded that the Republican governor didn't know about the plot carried out by people on his staff to retaliate against a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Christie.

Christie has maintained he did not know what his associates were up to while he was seeking re-election last September.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who co-chairs the legislative investigations panel, said the lawmakers are seeking the emails and text messages Christie provided for the internal investigation. They also want a full list of the people interviewed and notes of the sessions. He acknowledged that audio tapes or full transcripts may not exist, but said some record of must have been preserved for the report.

The legislative committee is investigating how high up Christie's chain of command the order to block traffic originated, and why the lanes were closed. The U.S. attorney's office is conducting a separate investigation to determine whether any federal laws may have been broken.

The lane closing scandal has been a major distraction for Christie, who may run for president in 2016.

The scandal broke open in January with revelations that an email setting the lane closings in motion was sent by Christie's deputy chief of staff, a close member of the governor's staff whom he fired.

The former staffer, Bridget Kelly, and Christie's two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, are fighting a subpoena for documents related to the lane closings from the legislative panel. Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson has been asked to rule whether the pair can be forced to turn over emails, text messages and other documents to the panel.

Lawyers for Kelly and Stepien have cited their clients' Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The legislative panel's lawyer says Kelly and Stepien are not entitled to blanket protections from subpoenas seeking documents.

Twenty-six other people and organizations close to Christie, including his re-election campaign, are complying with similar subpoenas. However, Wisniewski said Tuesday few documents have been produced by David Samson, the former chairman of the bridge agency who resigned amid the scandal.

Wisniewski also said the legislative panel was communicating with the federal prosecutors so that the two investigations don't interfere.

Meanwhile, a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released Tuesday found voters remain skeptical of Christie's response to the scandal.

While the governor's personal rating has stabilized following a double-digit drop after the scandal broke, half of those surveyed say they don't believe Christie's explanation of the lane closures and another quarter say they somewhat believe him. Nearly two-thirds have concluded that a taxpayer-funded review of the lane closings commissioned by Christie does not offer an objective assessment.

The poll surveyed 731 registered voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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