New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office may have paid for an internal review that declared he had “no involvement” in last September’s lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, however, at a press conference Tuesday where he announced the appointment of a new chairman of the agency that oversees the bridge, Christie wouldn’t say if he thought the State Legislature’s investigation into the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal had run its course.
“You know, I don’t think it’s appropriate while that goes on for me to give an opinion on that at this point. I believe that we’ll just continue to cooperate,” said Christie.
Christie also declined to answer a question about whether he agreed with criticism some of his fellow Republicans have made that the Legislature’s investigatory committee, which is co-chaired by two Democrats and includes mostly Democratic members, is too partisan.
“I think that the degree of likelihood that I would answer that question is so low … I’m going to give somebody else a question,” Christie said to the reporter who asked him about the committee.
Despite Christie’s apparent reluctance to address the committee’s alleged partisanship, as he departed the press conference, the Governor indicated he wished he’d been able to discuss the issue.
“That was actually a good question that I couldn’t answer,” Christie said.
The lane closures caused days of traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and some Democrats have alleged they were ordered to retaliate against the mayor there for declining to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign last year. Documents subpoenaed by the Legislature have indicated some of Christie’s allies participated in discussions about the lane closures before they occurred and mocked the controversy.
Christie’s internal Bridgegate review, which was conducted by a team of attorneys led by Gibson Dunn Partner Randy Mastro, found there were only two members of the governor’s circle who “knowingly participated” in the plan to shut the lanes — Christie’s ex-deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, and David Wildstein, one of his former appointees at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which oversees the bridge. Wildstein resigned last December and Christie fired Kelly in January.
The Legislature’s Bridgegate investigation committee unveiled a new round of subpoenas April 22 issued to two Port Authority officials and two close aides to Christie, including his top spokesman, Michael Drewniak. At his press conference announcing the new Port Authority chair Tuesday, Christie indicated his staffers would comply with the subpoenas.
“I don’t see any reason why not. We have completely cooperated with … any and all appropriate ongoing investigations,” said Christie. “We have not restricted peoples’ ability in any way to cooperate with appropriate investigations.”
Those subpoenas may not be the last. Earlier this month, one of the committee’s co-chairs, Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, would not rule out the possibility Christie himself could be subpoenaed for testimony.
At the press conference Tuesday, along with discussing the Legislature’s Bridgegate investigation, Christie addressed some of the other investigations into his administration and allies that have emerged in the wake of the controversy over the lane closures.
In addition to the Bridgegate probe, various Port Authority construction projects are also reportedly being investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and, earlier this year, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara reportedly subpoenaed records relating to the business dealings of former Port Authority Chairman David Samson in an effort to identify potential conflicts of interest. At the press conference Tuesday, Christie was asked whether he was confident Samson’s conduct was appropriate.
“Very,” Christie said.
Samson resigned from the Port Authority last month. Christie said Samson, who was one of his close allies, made the decision to step down because Mastro’s review recommended substantial reforms and changes at the Port Authority.
Christie said Tuesday he was confident, John Degnan, his pick to succeed Samson at the Port Authority could address the “challenges” facing the agency. Degnan was appointed by Democratic former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne to serve as New Jersey’s attorney general from 1978 until 1981.
“At a time when there are significant challenges at the Port Authority … I wanted someone with unquestioned credibility both politically, from a partisan perspective, and most importantly from the issue of integrity,” Christie said of his decision to appoint Degnan.
U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman is also investigating Christie’s administration. Fishman’s probe encompasses the Bridgegate allegations as well as claims made by Hoboken, N.J. Mayor Dawn Zimmer that officials in the Christie administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid from her city unless she approved a real estate project there. Mastro’s review dismissed those allegations as “demonstrably false.”
Last week, Zimmer sent a letter to members of the Legislature saying she did not initially come forward with her allegations because she was concerned about Christie’s ties to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Christie addressed Zimmer’s latest claims Tuesday.
“I think those allegations are as credible as the other allegations Mayor Zimmer made over time and have been disproven by the content of the Mastro report,” Christie quipped.
Soon after Christie spoke Tuesday, Wisniewski, who is chair of the New Jersey Assembly’s Transportation & Independent Authorities Committee in addition to his role on the investigatory committee issued a statement expressing decidedly cautious optimism about Degnan’s appointment.
“I welcome Mr. Degnan’s nomination as the new chairman, with caution. Frankly, it can’t get much worse at the Port Authority, so any change should be beneficial, but Mr. Degnan also brings with him the strong resume and experience that makes me hopeful he will be an independent partner for reform,” Wisniewski said. “We need accountability and transparency and a willingness to make changes. Abuses of government power and threats to public safety can no longer be acceptable.”
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