Legislative probe on bridge traffic jams slows
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers are moving slower than they had planned as they investigate the politically engineered traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge last year.
The reason: They’re yielding to a federal criminal probe.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a co-chairman of a panel looking into what happened, says the committee’s lawyer, who has been consulting with federal prosecutors, has advised that about half of the 12 people on a list of possible witnesses should not be made to testify now.
Wisniewski, a Democrat, said Wednesday that the panel made up of members of the Assembly and Senate is closer to the end of its probe than the beginning. But he said there is not clarity on one central issue: Who approved closing lanes in Fort Lee that caused four days of massive traffic jams apparently as retribution for the mayor there, Mark Sokolich.
The lane closures came weeks after Bridget Kelly, then a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie, sent a message to David Wildstein, a ranking official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“We’ve seen an abuse of power,” Wisniewski said Wednesday. “We don’t have any idea how it took place.”
Wisniewski said he hopes that answer can be learned.
He said that’s a reason his committee will continue its work even if a grand jury decides not to file charges.
A report commissioned by the governor’s office and released in March found that Christie was not involved in closing the lanes.
Kelly and Wildstein are among people who have refused to cooperate with the legislative committee, citing their right not to incriminate themselves.
Sokolich; Christie’s political strategist Michael DuHaime; and his former chief counsel, Charles McKenna, are among those who appeared on a list of 13 potential witnesses that was obtained last month by The Associated Press and other media outlets.
On Wednesday, Wisniewski would not say which witnesses had been ruled out for now.
But he said they included some of the key figures. Those who could be called now, he said, may not be able to provide new details.
Of the 13, the only one to receive a subpoena from the lawmakers so far is Christie aide Regina Egea. She is scheduled to testify on Thursday and is likely to face questions about being forwarded a Port Authority email ordering the re-opening of the closed lanes and also her work in editing the statement that was to be delivered by then-Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni when he testified before the committee in November.
Three other committee meetings scheduled for this month have been canceled.
Wisniewski said it is possible, but growing unlikely, that the committee will wrap up its work by early fall, when the other co-chair, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, said she hoped it would be finished.
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