Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Jersey Bridgegate scandal news January 16 , 2014 - Lead story --- New Christie bridge scandal subpoenas target governor's top aides, advisers -- 17 people issued subpoenas today ! Another major development -- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has found no evidence that lane closures in Fort Lee during the second week of September were the result of a traffic study according to a statement issued by the U.S. Senator investigating the controversy today.

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board 

on January 17, 2014 

So far, Gov. Chris Christie hasn’t said whether he will cooperate with the Legislature’s investigation into Bridgegate. During last week’s State of the State speech, he promised tocooperate with all “appropriate” inquiries. Words like that leave lots of wiggle room, and so far, the governor’s office won’t clarify his meaning.

Since that speech, at least 18 Christie insiders have been subpoenaed by the Assembly committee looking into this tawdry episode. It was the emails subpoenaed by the same committee that traced the order to pull this trigger back to top-ranking Christie aides and appointees.

Christie may be laying the groundwork to claim executive privilege and fight those subpoenas in court. That would spark a full-blown Constitutional crisis testing the Legislature’s right to investigate the executive branch.

Until last week, the subpoenas from committee chair Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) targeted Christie’s appointees at the Port Authority, where the bridge-blocking scheme was executed and the phony cover story about a “traffic study”was hatched. The new subpoenas cross a threshhold by targeting the governor’s inner circle.
It is true that the executive branch needs some privacy so that the governor and his aides don’t have to worry that every communication could be made public. That would have a chilling effect, and could violate privacy.

In this case, there is clear evidence of wrongdoing within the governor’s inner circle.
But that has to be balanced against the public’s right to uncover wrongdoing. President Nixon claimed executive privilege to protect the Oval Office tapes that uncovered the crimes in the Watergate scandal. But the Supreme Court rejected that claim unanimously, given the compelling public interest in rooting out wrongs.

In this case, there is clear evidence of wrongdoing within the governor’s inner circle. It was his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who wrote the infamous email saying it was time for “traffic problems” in Fort Lee. Several other senior aides are in emails discussing the cover-up that followed. So this is no fishing expedition. It is a careful inquiry.
Christie has studiously avoided trying to get to the bottom of this. When he fired Kelly, who had worked closely with him for years, he did not call her into his office to ask what she knew. Nor did he ask his own campaign manager, Bill Stepien. That tells us that the governor was deliberately looking the other way. He didn’t want to know the full truth.
If he takes that a step farther and fights these subpoenas, it would show that he has something to hide. And given his willingness to throw his aides overboard, we can only assume that would indicate wrongdoing on his own part.

The governor promises that he knew nothing about this, and took no part in any cover-up. If that’s true, he should have no problem fully cooperating.

More political bullying by the governor's Team ?

HOBOKEN — Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was told by top officials in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration that she would get funds to help her city recover from Hurricane Sandy only if she expedited a politically-connected development project, Zimmer said today.
Zimmer, a Democrat who has long been an ally of Christie, made the explosive accusation this morning on national television, telling MSNBC host Steve Kornacki that she was pressured by Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno, Richard Constable, the current commissioner of community affairs, and Lori Grifa, the former commissioner.

Christie's administration denies the accusations.

Guadagno, Zimmer said, pulled her aside during an event in Hoboken in May and made the connection explicit. Zimmer recalled the interaction in her diary, which was quoted on the show:

“She pulls me aside and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project. It’s very important to the governor. The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it’s not right. These things should not be connected. But they are, she says. ‘If you tell anyone I said it, I will deny it.’”

The bombshell accusations are the latest damaging development for Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, which is racked by scandal over the politically-motivated toll lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

At issue is one of Hoboken’s last undeveloped patches – a 19 block area in the north end of town. Grifa, Zimmer told Kornacki, helped Hoboken up with a $75,000 grant through the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to fund a study on its development when she was commissioner in 2010.

But Zimmer said she was baffled that when the study came out in January 2013, it only recommended developing 3 of the 19 blocks that were owned by the Rockefeller Group.
The Rockefeller Group was represented by Wolff & Samson, according to Kornacki – the law firm of Port Authority Chairman David Samson. And Grifa, after stepping down as commissioner in 2011, began to lobby for the firm.

Zimmer, however, did not support those development plans despite pressure from Grifa, who once tried to set up a conference call with her and Samson to push for it, according to emails Zimmer provided. And Hoboken’s planning board in April voted against designating those three blocks for development, pushing to develop all 19 instead.

At the same time, the Christie administration was distributing Hurricane Sandy recovery funds. Hoboken had been devastated by the storm. Almost 80 percent had been flooded. There was more than $100 million in property damage, according to Zimmer's office.
But even though Zimmer requested more than $100 million from Christie, she received only $342,000.

In May, Zimmer again took to her diary to recount an event she participated in with Constable.

“We are miked up with other panelists all around us, and probably the sound team is listening, and he says ‘I hear you’re against the Rockefeller project… If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you.”

Zimmer also wrote that she was “emotional” about Christie because ‘“This week I found out he’s cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years.”
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak called Zimmer’s claims “outlandish” in a statement to MSNBC. “What or who is asking her to say such outlandish things is anyone’s guess,” he wrote.

Constable also denied Zimmer’s accusations, telling the show “I doubt Mayor Zimmer would say such a thing because that statement is categorically false.”

Zimmer said making the accusations was “one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” but said it was “not fair for the governor to hold Sandy funds hostage for the city of Hoboken.”
“I cannot give a windfall to one property owner because the governor wants me to in exchange for Sandy funds,’ Zimmer said.

The Rockefeller Group also provided a statement to Kornacki in which they said they had no knowledge of the claims but “if it turns out to be true, it would be deplorable.”


Wisniewski and Bramnick
State Assemblymen John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), on left, and Jon Bramnick (R-Union) conferring before Assembly vote on the special committee
Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic Legislature appeared headed toward a constitutional showdown over the Bridgegate scandal yesterday, as Christie weighed his legal options and Republicans questioned the partisanship of an Assembly committee that issued 20 subpoenas to targets that included some of the highest-ranking members of Christie’s inner circle.
The unexpectedly large list of subpoenas issued yesterday by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Investigations, made it clear that he was aiming beyond fired Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and dismissed campaign guru Bill Stepien to target all of the top Christie aides named in previously subpoenaed documents released last week -- a list that stops just short of the governor himself.
The short-term disruption in the embattled governor’s office is likely to be significant, with current Chief of Staff Regina Egea, former Chief of Staff and Attorney-General-in-waiting Kevin O’Dowd, Press Secretary Michael Drewniak, and Communications Director Maria Comella all reportedly receiving subpoenas answerable in two weeks with public testimony under oath likely to follow in mid-February.
Christie’s best options yesterday seemed to be either to invoke some level of executive privilege to protect the inner workings of his governor’s office from public scrutiny or to argue that the public investigations by the legislative committees would interfere with a proper probe by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Such an investigation by the U.S. Attorney could take Bridgegate out of the public eye for months, and its closed-door inquiry would avert the damaging spectacle of a series of Christie aides following the lead of the Port Authority’s David Wildstein in taking the Fifth Amendment.
For Christie, still the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in an NBC/Marist University poll released Wednesday, the stakes are high. The governor, who dropped from just three points behind Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton to 13 points down in the wake of Bridgegate, has a dinner with major Republican donors in Florida Sunday hosted by Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who urged him to run for president in 2012. Christie, who is chairman of the Republican Governors Association, will be raising money for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, but a planned public event was cancelled after Bridgegate became national news last week.

Plotting a Legal Strategy

To develop its legal strategy, the Christie administration yesterday announced it was hiring the law firm of Randy Mastro, a New York lawyer who served as deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, one of Christie’s most vocal defenders in the Bridgegate scandal, to serve as outside counsel and effectively as the gatekeeper for the production of the thousands of documents that will be sought by the half-dozen investigations now underway.
Christie, who said last week he did not interview Kelly and Stepien because he did not want to be accused of interfering with ongoing investigations, announced yesterday that he is conducting his own “internal review to uncover the facts surrounding the lane closures in Fort Lee,” and that his administration would be “fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney inquiry and other appropriate inquiries and requests for information.”
Christie’s press statement pointedly left out any specific commitment to cooperate with the special investigative committees that were formed by the Assembly and Senate yesterday. The statement used the same “appropriate inquiries” disclaimer that Christie used in his State of the State speech Tuesday, which aroused Democratic suspicions that the governor might be planning to stonewall the legislative committees.

No Comment on Cooperation

“Is this an ‘appropriate’ investigation?” Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) asked. “We’ll have to wait to see,” he said, adding that he “couldn’t comment” on whether the governor would cooperate with the Wisniewski committee or the Senate panel chaired by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen).
“My concern is that if you’re going to act like a prosecutor, you run the risk of exposing innocent people to public scrutiny,” Bramnick said of Wisniewski. “You’re talking about taking private communications that were made in the expectation of privacy and subjecting them to public scrutiny. It’s not obstructionism, it’s a legitimate institutional concern for people in government that their privacy should be respected.”
Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly yesterday rallied around Christie, questioning the partisan motives of Democratic leaders. Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth) demanded assurance that the Wisniewski committee “will not be a Coliseum that exists solely for the purpose of throwing as many people as possible to the lions.”
Wisniewski dismissed the partisan criticism and said he would expect the governor to act in good faith unless he proves otherwise. “We have no reason to believe the governor won’t cooperate. We are certainly an ‘appropriate’ investigation,” he insisted. Wisniewski brought in his own heavy hitter as special counsel to the committee, hiring Reid Schar, the former assistant U.S. Attorney who successfully prosecuted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Wisniewski’s committee met behind closed doors in executive session yesterday before agreeing to issue subpoenas to 17 individuals and three organizations. While Handlin and the other three Republicans on the committee tried unsuccessfully to prevent Wisniewski from being given the unilateral power to issue subpoenas, Wisniewski said all four Republicans approved the subpoenas being issued.
While Wisniewski declined to name the individuals and groups receiving the subpoenas because he did not want them to find out about it on TV or from other publications, his acknowledgement that subpoenas were going to those who received emails or texts about the George Washington Bridge lane closures or their aftermath left little mystery about most of the names on the subpoena list.
Wisniewski had already said he planned to start with Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who evidently ran a political operation within the governor’s office that included the incriminating August 13 email to Wildstein that it was “Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and Stepien, Kelly’s predecessor and political mentor who had served as campaign manager for Christie’s winning 2009 and 2013 races. Christie last week fired Kelly and severed all ties with Stepien, including his nomination as state Republican chairman and his consulting contract with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie heads.
Other top targets named in the emails and other documents subpoenaed last month from Wildstein and Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, both of whom resigned in December, included:
  • Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary and close aide since Christie became U.S. Attorney in 2001, who approved the Port Authority’s September 12 press release blaming the four days of lane closures on an apparently phantom traffic study, planned how to stonewall subsequent media inquiries, and met with his friend Wildstein right before his resignation.
  • Egea, the director of the Governor’s Authorities Unit whom Baroni sent Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye’s September 13 memo reversing the lane closures, which Foye said not only delayed emergency vehicles, but also “violates Federal Law and the laws of both States." It is unclear whether or how Egea, whom Christie last month appointed as his Chief of Staff, traditionally the second-most-powerful post in the governor’s office, followed up on the memo.
  • Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who worked with Baroni to attempt to squelch Foye’s public disclosure of the secret lane closures.
  • Charles McKenna, the governor’s former chief counsel who carefully watched Baroni’s testimony before Wisniewski’s Assembly Transportation Committee in late November and reported that Baroni did “great.”
  • Comella, Christie’s communications director and Drewniak’s boss, who worked with Stepien on Giuliani’s failed presidential campaign in 2008 before latching onto Christie.
The subpoenas presumably would have included O’Dowd, Kelly’s direct boss as chief of staff, whose nomination by Christie to become state Attorney General has been stalled in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal. Democrats will want to know what he knew about Kelly’s activities before allowing his nomination to go to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Matt Mowers, the regional director for the Christie campaign whose responsibility included Bergen County and who was the campaign staffer who reportedly approached Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to ask for his endorsement before the bridge closings, also received a subpoena, according to a release issued by the New Hampshire Republican Party. Mowers was named executive director of the New Hampshire GOP following Christie’s reelection in what was widely seen as a move by Christie to put a trusted aide in a key position in an important 2016 presidential primary state.
The three organizations that received subpoenas are most likely the Governor’s Office, the Port Authority, which has previously been subpoenaed, and the Christie campaign, where both Stepien and Mowers worked at the time of the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

‘Zero Evidence’

The wave of subpoenas last night overshadowed yesterday’s pronouncement in Washington by U.S. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) that his U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation had found “zero evidence” in documents supplied by the Port Authority to support the notion that the George Washington Bridge lanes were closed for a legitimate traffic study. “It is unconscionable that anyone would block commercial traffic and risk the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way,” Rockefeller declared.

The issuance of the Assembly subpoenas also took away some of the luster from the announcement by Weinberg, the Senate majority leader whose Bergen County district includes Fort Lee, that Kelly, Egea, and Stepien would be the first three recipients of subpoenas to be issued by her Senate Select Committee on Investigations.
Republicans in both houses questioned the need and the extra financial cost of the Assembly and Senate appointing two separate investigative committees, a decision that Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) blamed on the unwillingness of Assembly Democratic leaders to agree to form a single joint committee.
“Leave it to Democrats to foul up what should be an easy slam dunk by having to create two committees!” one Democrat fumed privately.
Wisniewski said yesterday that the Assembly Select Committee on Investigation is “on a much faster track than the newly formed Senate committee could ever be” because it is a continuation of the Assembly Transportation Committee investigation whose subpoena powers led to the cache of documents that included the email tracing the lane closures to Kelly.
Indeed, Wisniewski was ready to present his new committee with 20 fully prepared subpoenas yesterday afternoon based specifically on the thousands of pages of documents produced by Wildstein, Baroni, and other Port Authority officials in response to the Assembly Transportation Committee’s subpoenas.
Sweeney appointed the seven members of Weinberg’s committee yesterday, but the panel did not meet, and whether it would issue separate subpoenas to Kelly, Stepien, and Egea now that the Wisniewski committee has already done so is unclear. Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex), a close Christie ally whom the governor unsuccessfully tried to have replace Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean (R-Union), will be a fierce advocate for Christie’s interests on the panel.
Wisniewski and Weinberg both held out the possibility that the Assembly and Senate committees would find ways to work together in the future and avoid duplicating efforts, with Wisniewski suggesting that the committees might meet jointly to hear from subpoenaed witnesses.

While Republicans suggested during the Assembly floor debate that the Wisniewski committee should be given a 90-day deadline to complete its investigation, Wisniewski said setting a deadline of any sort would be foolish.
“We know a number of people that have been discussed have retained counsel. We could have people fight us on these subpoenas and it could take longer,” Wisniewski noted, adding that “it’s entirely possible we could get to the end of our two-year subpoena power and still not have all the answers.”
Republicans asked tough questions during both the Senate and Assembly floor debates yesterday, with Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) even asking why the Senate Special Committee on Investigations did not expand its aegis to include other past scandals, such as former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s appointment of his former lover, Golan Cipel, as head of Homeland Security.
But in the end, Republicans voted unanimously with the Democrats for the resolutions creating the investigative panels, which passed the Senate 33-0 and the Assembly 75-0, a tacit recognition that they did not want to be on record voting against the creation of an investigative committee in case there proves to be more to the scandal than is currently known.
Similarly, while the GOP members of Wisniewski’s committee, led by Handlin and Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), argued vigorously against the resolution giving Wisniewski the sole authority to issue subpoenas and control over the release of subpoenaed documents within the committee, the four Republicans later voted behind closed doors to approve all 20 of the subpoenas issued.
“Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of this thing in case there’s something there,” one Statehouse observer commented. “Everybody remembers what happens to those who stayed on the wrong side for too long in Watergate.”

(  Bridgegate heating up as subpoenas fly ... )

TRENTON — Some of Gov. Chris Christie's closest aides and advisers — as well as his re-election campaign committee — are among those subpoenaed this evening by the newly formed state Assembly panel investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal, The Star-Ledger has learned.

Kevin O'Dowd, Christie's pick to serve as the state's new Attorney General, is among the 17 people issued subpoenas today, according to a source close to the investigation. The source was not allowed to discuss the subpoenas and requested anonymity.

Also on the list:

• Bridget Anne Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff for the governor, who has been one of the key names in the investigation.

• Bill Stepien, Christie's two-time campaign manager.

• Charles McKenna, the governor's former chief counsel.

• Michael Drewniak, Christie's spokesman.

• Matt Mowers, a former aide to the governor.

The day after Christie's re-election, Mowers was named executive director of the New Hampshire GOP.

Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn tonight issued a statement in defense of Mowers, who was regional political director for the Christie campaign.

"Matt is an extremely talented worker and a valued member of our team. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing and there is zero indication that he is in anyway connected to the decision to close the bridge lanes," Horn said, adding: “Matt has my full support and confidence, and I look forward to his continued service to our party."

Before moving to the Christie campaign, Mowers was regional director for legislative and intergovernmental affairs in the governor's office. He has worked closely with Kelly and Stepien.

The Assembly panel, which met for the first time today, also issued subpoenas to two other organizations aside from the committee to re-elect Christie.

A separate state Senate committee formed today to investigate the scandal plans to subpoenas records from David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, agency Commissioner William “Pat” Schuber, and Regina Egea, Christie's incoming chief of staff, said Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the panel's chairwoman.
The committees are looking into who knew about a plan to close local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September — a move that caused heavy traffic in Fort Lee for days. Democrats have long accused the Christie administration of orchestrating the closures as political payback because Fort Lee's Democratic mayor refused to endorse the Republican governor's re-election bid.

E-mails leaked last week show that Kelly sent an e-mail that appeared to trigger the lane closures, saying it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The governor has denied any involvement in the closures, but he fired Kelly last week, stripped Stepien of his advising roles, and has apologized repeatedly for the issue.
Baroni and fellow Port Authority official David Wildstein stepped down toward the end of last year amid mounting speculation regarding the lane closures.

By Elliott Ruga
If anyone in New Jersey is outraged by the actions of the governor’s office in the Bridge­gate scandal, where have you been? This is how the business of government is conducted in New Jersey.

On Main Street in Boonton, where I both work and reside, if I were to ask passers-by to name the three legislators who represent them in Trenton, most would be at a loss.
Most people, if they engage at all in political currents, are concerned with national and international issues — over which they have less control and which less directly affect their daily lives than what is decided in Trenton.

Because New Jerseyans are so uninterested in state-level politics, our state government is an insular, self-serving machine plagued with patronage, cronyism and driven by special interests.

In fairness, there are some very good legislators who faithfully serve their constituents’ interests. But they are not the movers and shakers, like Gov. Chris Christie, who is the product of a political machine that has aspirations of planting a flag in Washington.
What is rotten about New Jersey politics extends among Democrats and Republicans. I am often in Trenton advocating for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition. It has been an exercise in frustration trying to alert disengaged citizens while hard-won and needed environmental legislation is continually weakened by special interests — with the support of the governor’s office and connected legislators who have pushed through bills such as the Economic Opportunity Act, Permit Extension, Wastewater Management Planning and more.
The mention of these complex and technical bills glazes the eyes of a distracted public. Yet when the impacts are seen and felt, it will be too late to stop them.

We watched as the governor filled seats on the supposedly independent authority, the New Jersey Highlands Council, with avowed anti-Highlands Act activists. How did he manage to get the liberal-leaning Senate to approve his far-right nominees?

Then, with deal-making and under threats of retribution, he orchestrated the Highlands Council’s firing of its dynamically competent and respected executive director. In a strategically brilliant move, a replacement was hired, securing the governor’s complete control over a once-independent authority while feathering the state-funded retirement package for the new director, a loyal patron.

Plus, the move was advantageous to the Morris County Republican machine in an upcoming freeholder primary election. It was a win for everyone. Everyone, that is, except everyone else in New Jersey, the intended beneficiaries of the visionary and bold Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act.

It played out like this: On March 7, 2012, the Highlands Coalition, with access to leaked information, issued a statement predicting the imminent firing of its executive director, with a Morris County freeholder identified as the replacement. Officials who were in on it expressed outrage. The Highlands Council dismissed our claims as nonsense. The governor’s office characterized our statement as “overwrought and hysterical.”

Yet on March 15, the executive director was fired. And on April 18, upon the recommendation of its search committee — which hadn’t advertised the position and reviewed only two résumés — the Highlands Council appointed a Morris County freeholder as its new executive director. The freeholder soon announced he would not seek re-election, thus dropping his challenge in the upcoming primary to the candidate who was favored by the county Republican organization.

After Christie’s appointees at the Port Authority were caught misusing the agency in a fabulous demonstration of corrupt power, we are being asked to believe this was an isolated incident and the misguided acts of a rogue staff member.

No, this is how our state government operates, and the office of this governor is only the tip of a much larger iceberg — of patronage, cronyism, influence-peddling and intimidation — all fueled by an institutional culture of pay-to-play. And it exists only because no one has been paying attention.

An outraged nation might decide this kind of leadership isn’t what it wants in the White House. But unless we in New Jersey start watching what goes on in Trenton, until we focus our collective attentions on state politics, we will continue to get exactly what we deserve.

The two former officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who resigned last month amid investigations into the George Washington Bridge lane closures have asked the Port Authority to pay their legal bills, the agency said.

A spokesman for the Port Authority said indemnification had been requested by David Wildstein, who ordered the Sept. 9-13 lane closures, and by his immediate supervisor, Bill Baroni, who approved his actions in advance.

The spokesman, Chris Valens, said the agency’s legal department was weighing the request.
Valens said the agency would not not provide severance packages to Baroni, whose salary was $291,000 a year, or Wildstein, whose salary was $150,000.

Baroni was appointed deputy executive director by Gov. Chris Christie in early 2010, and hired Wildstein with Christie’s backing later that year. Wildstein announced his resignation on Dec. 6, followed by Christie’s announcement of Baroni’s departure on Dec. 13.

Baroni and Wildstein were among seven current or former Port Authority employees subpoenaed on Dec. 12 to provide documents to the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities committee, which was investigating the closures.
"They're not getting severance."
The two were each represented by his own lawyer in their responses to the subpoenas. The other five are all still employed by the Port Authority, and were represented by a Port Authority in-house lawyer in their responses.

The transportation committee found Wildstein to be in contempt, a potential misdemeanor charge that could be charged by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office, after he refused to answer follow-up questions during a Jan. 9 hearing. During the hearing, Wildstein repeatedly invoked what his lawyer, Alan Zegas, said were his state and federal constitutional rights against self-incrimination.

Baroni, who has not been called to testify since leaving the Port Authority, is represented by Michael Himmel.

Neither Himmel nor Zegas responded to requests for comment.

Earlier today, the transportation committee was replaced by an Assembly special investigative committee empaneled to look into the closures and related issues. Meanwhile, the state Senate formed its own special committee to look into the matter. Both panels have subpoena power.

The state’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, announced last week that his office was conducting a review of the closures.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has found no evidence that lane closures in Fort Lee during the second week of September were the result of a traffic study according to a statement issued by the U.S. Senator investigating the controversy today.

"The Port Authority's response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study," Sen. John D. Rockefeller, who had asked the agency for a response to a series of questions about the incident, said in a statement today.

Rockefeller said the answers to his inquiry show that the officials that ordered the lane diversions did not follow the agency's own procedures.

The Port Authority's response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study
Rockerfeller called it "unconscionable" that despite warnings from the agency's professional engineers, the lane diversions were carried out anyway, Putting at risk " the safety of thousands on our interstate highway system in this way."

The Senator said he hopes agency officials' description of the incident as "aberrational" is true.

"I hope this is the case, but the Port Authority needs to fully explain what steps it is taking to make sure nothing like this ever happens again," he said.

The response from the Port Authority is one more indication that the lane diversions, which snarled traffic in Fort Lee over the course of a week in early September, were done for political retribution.  Earlier emails show that a staffer in the office of Gov. Chris Christie knew about and possibly ordered the lane closures.

To date no explanation for the diversions has been offered, but Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich has speculated that it was a form of punishment