With the State Legislature committee set and back and forth discussions on how the George Washington Bridge scandal should be studied still waging a bit, the next wrinkle would occur with some more infighting. It would become an exchange of blame between Governor Chris Christie and David Wildstein as they pointed the finger of blame and guilt at the other.
Wildstein would via his lawyer claim that Christie had full knowledge of the lane closures when they took place.
Christie’s office was quick to fire back by stating,
Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the governor has said all along — he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with. As the governor said in a Dec. 13 press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his Jan. 9 press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of Jan. 8. The governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.
Wildstein’s attorney would respond:
Evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.
The spat and potential new development would lead Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) to exclaim,
The allegations being made by Mr. Wildstein through his attorney lends credence to the skepticism about the Governor’s statement. It validates the line of questioning the committee has chosen to pursue. I am curious (Wildstein) has documents that at a minimum question the governor’s veracity, yet he did not provide them to the committee when he was subpoenaed.
Wisniewski is one of the 12 members of the State Legislature committee to investigate what exactly transpired. Another member of the committee, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39), looked to quell any speculation that Wisniewski’s comments could stir.
At this point, nobody can really make any sort of judgment on what the letter is even attempting to infer. Do I find the letter to be troublesome? Yes. Do I think based upon what’s put forth in the letter, does it change the landscape at all? No. All it does is put forth a tremendous amount of unanswered questions. I don’t see it as a smoking gun in any sort of fashion.
The situation would rapidly turn into a school yard fight of sorts as Christie would try to tarnish Wildstein’s reputation and the type of person he was in high school. The two went to the same high school over 30 years ago.
While Wildstein was connecting Christie to his decision to shut down lanes of the George Washington Bridge, the person who formally requested those lanes to be shut down chose to invoke the Fifth Amendment to protect herself. Former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly chose to utilize her Fifth Amendment rights as well as using the Fourth Amendment when deciding to deny the committee’s request for information.
Her attorney would voice:
Here, the information demanded from Ms. Kelly…directly overlaps with a parallel federal grand jury investigation being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. As such…Ms. Kelly asserts her rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and New Jersey law and will not produce the information demanded by the Committee. Providing the committee with unfettered access to, among other things, Ms. Kelly’s personal diaries, calendars and all of her electronic devices amounts to an inappropriate and unlimited invasion of the Ms. Kelly’s personal privacy.
The next major step after Wildstein’s testimony and Kelly’s decision to remain silent would be the eight Democrats voting to request Kelly and Bill Stepien to produce documents that they have refused to provide. Stepien like Kelly had also invoked his Fifth Amendment rights throughout this process. All four Republicans decided to abstain from the vote.
Former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni would too draw attention from the committee as there were concerns regarding statements he made shortly after the lane closures. But he would not be be as big of focal point.
The biggest concern for the committee was the type of connection Christie and his office had with the Port Authority and what beyond the Kelly message transpired.
There’s a fraternity of people that are considered important to the governor that get jobs at the Port Authority. These are all people who in some fashion knew about the traffic jam, the order to cause the traffic jam or the efforts to obfuscate the traffic jam.
The focus of the review going forward would revolve around the persistence of the committee to get more from Kelly and Stepien and their lack of willingness to comply with requests from the committee.