Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bridgegate updates January 25 , 2014......The Port Authority denied a request by David Wildstein, the agency’s former director of interstate capital projects, to pay his legal bills related to the investigation into the lane closures, said Authority spokesman Chris Valens........ Gov. Chris Christie's office has declined to release emails from the personal accounts of two top aides to the governor involved in the George Washington Bridge scandal, according to a liberal super PAC based in Washington..... Federal prosecutors digging into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal have issued subpoenas to Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign and the state Republican Party as the widening probe into allegations that the governor’s office abused its power gathers steam.

Legal Bills for Wildstein won't be footed by taxpayers.....



Christie bridge scandal: Port Authority won't pay Wildstein's bills

Brent Johnson/The Star-LedgerBy Brent Johnson/The Star-Ledger 
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on January 25, 2014 at 6:00 AM, updated January 25, 2014 at 8:09 AM
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TRENTON — The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Friday it won’t pay the legal bills of the former official — and ally of Gov. Chris Christie — who ordered the controversial lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last year.

The Port Authority denied a request by David Wildstein, the agency’s former director of interstate capital projects, to pay his legal bills related to the investigation into the lane closures, said Authority spokesman Chris Valens.

Wildstein, who attended Livingston High School with Christie and later became the town’s mayor, called for the unannounced closure of local access lanes at the nation’s busiest bridge in Fort Lee last September — a move that led to days of heavy traffic for thousands of motorists.
Democrats have accused the Christie administration of orchestrating the closures as political payback because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor declined to endorse the governor for re-election. When questioned by a state Assembly committee earlier this month, Wildstein took the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer.

Bill Baroni, Port Authority’s former deputy executive director and another Christie ally, has also asked the agency to pay his legal bills. Valens said Friday that request was still being considered.

Subpoenaed emails that Wildstein handed over to a state Assembly committee investigating the issue revealed that Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, appeared to have advance knowledge of the closures, writing in one email: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Christie fired Kelly and apologized for the issue. Her name came up again Friday. A Washington-based liberal super PAC said Christie’s office declined to release emails from the personal account of Kelly and Michael Drewniak, the governor’s top spokesman.

American Bridge, a pro-Democratic group that conducts opposition research on Republicans, said it filed a request under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act for the emails. But Christie’s office denied it in a letter dated Thursday, the group said.
Andrew McNally, an assistant counsel in the governor’s office, wrote to American Bridge saying Christie has received many similar requests and can’t fulfill all of them. "But we continue to work diligently and will provide a further response to your request as soon as possible," McNally wrote.

American Bridge claimed Christie was shielding himself with executive privilege. Christie’s spokesmen did not return requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Port Authority Chairman David Samson beefed up his legal team by personally retaining the Newark law firm Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster, led by prominent attorney Angelo Genova. Samson — a close Christie adviser — previously hired former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cherthoff.

The Legislature late Friday announced 11 of the 12 lawmakers who will serve on a special investigative committee with subpoena power.

The panel, co-chaired by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), will include Assembly members Marlene Caride (D-Bergen), Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris), Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth), Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer); and Sens. Nia Gill (D-Essex) and Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex). Another Republican senator will be named to the panel.
And a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed that while 67 percent of voters say the word "fighter" fits Christie very well, 43 percent also chose the word "bully" — a nine-point increase from an October poll.

"Bridgegate has taken a toll on perceptions of Christie," said David Redlawsk, the poll’s director and a political science professor.





Bridge scandal: Governor's office declines to release personal emails of top aides

Salvador Rizzo/The Star-LedgerBy Salvador Rizzo/The Star-Ledger 
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on January 24, 2014 at 2:53 PM, updated January 24, 2014 at 5:17 PM
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TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie's office has declined to release emails from the personal accounts of two top aides to the governor involved in the George Washington Bridge scandal, according to a liberal super PAC based in Washington.

American Bridge, a pro-Democratic group that conducts opposition research on Republicans, said today that it filed a request under New Jersey's Open Public Records Act for the emails. Christie's office denied it in a letter dated Thursday, the group said.

The super PAC focused on two of Christie's top aides: chief spokesman Michael Drewniak and former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly.

American Bridge sought emails between them and Christie, or his top deputies in Trenton and the Port Authority, going back to April 2013.
According to documents submitted to the state Assembly under subpoena, Kelly used her private email account to tell a Christie associate at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

BridgetKelly.JPGBridget Anne Kelly 
Drewniak used his Gmail account while working on a statement with Wildstein when he resigned his job at the port in December, the subpoenaed documents show.
Andrew McNally, an assistant counsel in the governor's office, wrote back to American Bridge saying, "the subject matter of your request is the focus of numerous investigations from other entities, including state and federal authorities."

Christie's office has received many similar requests, he added, and can't fulfill all of them. "We are unable to make records available at this time, but we continue to work diligently and will provide a further response to your request as soon as possible," McNally wrote.

American Bridge lashed out at the response, claiming Christie was shielding himself with executive privilege. Spokesmen for the governor did not respond to requests for comment today.




Christie bridge scandal continues as U.S. Attorney issues subpoenas

3 gams13gang ARISTIDE
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman holds a news conference last September. (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)
Star-Ledger StaffBy Star-Ledger Staff 
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on January 24, 2014 at 6:00 AM, updated January 24, 2014 at 8:18 AM
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By Jason Grant and Susan K. Livio/The Star-Ledger
TRENTON — Federal prosecutors digging into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal have issued subpoenas to Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election campaign and the state Republican Party as the widening probe into allegations that the governor’s office abused its power gathers steam.

The subpoenas seek documents related to the September lane closures in Fort Lee, said Mark Sheridan, a lawyer representing the Christie for Governor organization and the Republican State Committee.

Many Democrats allege the closures were an act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting Christie’s re-election effort last year.

Exactly 15 days after the scandal erupted with the disclosure of damning emails among some of the governor’s top aides and associates, the subpoenas indicate U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s continued interest in the controversy.

Fishman has previously said his office was reviewing the matter "to determine whether a federal law was implicated."
Public attention had shifted away from the bridge controversy in recent days after Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said in a television interview last Saturday that the governor’s office had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief funding to her city if she didn’t back a Christie-supported real estate development there.

Lawyers with experience in public corruption probes said the subpoenas from Fishman’s office should not come as a surprise. They are an oft-used tool of federal prosecutors who want to get as much information as they can in the early stages of an inquiry.

"It is standard operating procedure," said Stanley Brand, a nationally recognized public corruption lawyer. "U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is moving with deliberate speed to get to the bottom of this. It certainly indicates that Fishman is taking this seriously (but) no one should imply anything from the service of the subpoenas."

In a statement, Sheridan confirmed his clients had "received subpoenas for documents … in addition to the subpoena the campaign previously received from the state legislative committee (also investigating the bridge lane closures). All three subpoenas focus on the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge."

While not discussing specifics, Sheridan, a Newark-based partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs, said the subpoenas "ask for information in the campaign’s possession related to Bill Baroni, David Wildstein and Bridget Kelly," among other information.

Baroni, Wildstein and Kelly all worked as highly placed aides and appointees of Christie, only to either resign or get fired as the bridge scandal gained traction.
Kelly, who served as Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Wildstein, a former Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have been shown in publicly disclosed emails to have orchestrated the lane closures.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly emailed to Wildstein in August, days before the lanes were closed. "Got it," Wildstein wrote back.

Baroni, a Christie appointee, resigned as deputy executive director of the Port Authority in December but not before maintaining that the lane closures were part of a planned traffic study.
Meanwhile, the Sandy aid controversy continues to percolate as well.
According to Zimmer, she met for several hours on Sunday with federal prosecutors in Newark who interviewed her and reviewed diary entries she said she had made.
On Wednesday, FBI agents reportedly questioned Hoboken city employees, at least some of whom told agents Zimmer had told them about a conversation she had with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who Zimmer claims pressured her to support the development project.
Guadagno has vehemently denied Zimmer’s accusations, and the governor’s office has said Hoboken has gotten its proper share of Sandy recovery money.
As the subpoenas issued to the Christie campaign and state GOP became public Thursday, state lawmakers leading the legislative investigation into lane closures made clear they intend to move forward with their probes.
"This is how the U.S. Attorney’s Office properly works," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), co-chairman of the legislative committee.
Asked if he would stand down if federal investigators request it, Wisniewski said the committee is "certainly not going to interfere with any investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office or any law enforcement agency."