An attorney for Governor Chris Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien revealed just how intense the federal investigation into “Bridgegate” is getting in a brief sent to the special counsel for the New Jersey Legislature’s committee probing the scandal on Monday.
In the brief, a copy of which was obtained by Business Insider, lawyer Kevin Marino revealed federal investigators had spoken to Stepien’s landlord and asked if he is a “rowdy tenant.” Marino also argued the committee’s justifications for attempting to get Stepien to comply with its subpoena were “absurd.”
Stepien managed both of Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns. He also served as Christie’s deputy chief of staff from 2010 until April 2013. On Jan. 7, Christie tapped Stepien to serve as chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party. However, the next day Christie asked Stepien not to pursue the party position and ended his consulting relationship with the Republican Governors Association (which Christie chairs) after documents subpoenaed by the New Jersey General Assembly’s transportation committee were made public showing Stepien mocking Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich with a Christie ally who orchestrated the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that are at the center of the scandal. Some Democrats have alleged the closures, which caused days of gridlock in Fort Lee, were revenge because Sokolich didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election.
In January, Stepien was subpoenaed by an Assembly committee investigating the closures along with 19 other individuals and organisations including Christie’s office. The Legislature’s joint committee dedicated to investigating the issue was established later that month. In response to that subpoena Stepien attorney invoked his Fifth Amendment protecting against self-incrimination. The joint committee then sought a court order from a judge to force Stepien to comply with the subpoena. Both sides are headed to court later this month.
Marino’s brief to the committee’s attorneys argued it is “absurd” to argue he “cannot rely on the Fifth Amendment and its state law analogue because he is not in any real danger of incrimination.” Some text in Marino’s brief was bolded and underlined to emphasise Stepien’s innocence.
“To be sure, Mr. Stepien is an innocent man. But his innocence by no means ensures, of even suggests that he will not be ‘ensnared by ambiguous circumstances’ if forced to comply with the Subpoena,” Marino wrote.
Marino also said the committee could not argue Stepien should be forced to turn over digital communications because “an individual loses his privacy interest in an email or text message as soon as it is sent.” The other main element of Marino’s brief was an argument against what he described as the committee’s “national security concern.” Marino said there is no reason to believe New Jersey will be made vulnerable in any way if Stepien is not forced to testify and hand over documents.
“While the Committee’s work is no doubt important, it seems safe to assume that the Union will not crumble if [committee co-chair John] Wisniewski is denied the ability to compel Mr. Stepien to testify against himself,” Marino wrote.
Additionally, Marino criticised the conduct of the committee, specifically one of its co-chairs, Wisniewski, who is a Democratic assemblyman. Marino referenced some of the television appearances Wisniewski has made discussing the investigation to paint the politician eager to make headlines and focused on Stepien.
“Chairman Wisniewski — seizing every opportunity to ‘meet the press’ and ‘face the nation’ to discuss his burgeoning investigation — has boldly proclaimed that the Lane Closures at the heart of the Subpoena involved criminality, and has repeatedly expressed his particular interest in Mr. Stepien,” wrote Marino.
Marino said Wisniewski had “pre-determined” his conclusions and “clearly hopes investigations will lead to criminal charges.” He also said multiple federal investigations into the Christie administration stemmed from Wisniewski’s “public pronouncements.” Marino went on to describe some of the contact he said Stepien had with federal investigators as a result of these investigations.
“On Friday January 17, 2014, FBI Special Agent Arthur Durrant telephoned Mr. Stepien on his cell phone,” Marino began. “Mr. Stepien informed Mr. Durrant that he was represented by counsel and asked Mr. Durrant to speak with his attorney.
Afterwards, Marino said he received a call from a pair of assistant U.S. attorneys asking to set up an interview with Stepien. Marino said he “declined that invitation.” Marino then said federal investigators spoke with Stepien’s landlord.
“In mid-February 2014, Agent Durrant and DOJ Criminal Investigator James Otten visited Mr. Stepien’s Mercer County home in his absence, questioned his landlord about his conduct and character — was he married, was he a rowdy tenant, did he pay his rent on time — and left behind their calling cards,” wrote Marino.
Read Marino’s full brief below.
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