New bridgegate subpoena focuses on former Port Authority official's November testimony
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni testifies before the Assembly Transportation Committee (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)
A newly issued subpoena in the ongoing George Washington Bridge investigation seeks information related to a former Port Authority official's November testimony before the committee investigating the controversy, an attorney for one of the subpoenaed groups confirmed Tuesday.
The subpoena, issued yesterday by the joint legislative committee, seeks any drafts of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni's November testimony, any edits to it, or correspondence with Baroni prior to the appearance, attorney Mark Sheridan confirmed Tuesday. Sheridan represents Gov. Chris Christie's reelection campaign, which has been subpoenaed by both the committee and the U.S. Attorney.
Baroni appeared before the committee on November 25, telling members during his testimony that the lane diversions ordered by the agency during the second week of September were done in order to study the effect on traffic at the bridge if two of three local lanes were diverted for highway use.
Baroni was not under oath at the time, and email traffic that surfaced after his testimony showed no evidence of a study but instead suggest the diversions were politically motivated. Democrats have said Baroni was not truthful with the committee and are seeking to determine who helped him prepare his testimony.
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow first reported the request for information about Baroni's testimony and citing a source close to the investigation said all 18 subpoenas issued yesterday seek the same information.
The subpoena issued to the campaign also seeks any correspondence between the campaign and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich going back to April of last year, Sheridan confirmed.
It's not clear why the committee is seeking correspondence with Sokolich, however the mayor has speculated that the lane diversions were punishment for his refusal to endorse Christie in his bid for reelection. Christie has denied that Sokolich was on the campaign's radar and said he was never told the endorsement was being sought.
Sokolich has said he was courted for an endorsement by former Christie campaign staffer Matt Mowers.
The 18 subpoenas issued yesterday follow 20 that were sent out earlier this year as the committee, made up of eight Democrats and four Republicans seeks to find out who knew about the lane closures and why they were ordered.
Both Baroni and former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who gave the order to divert the lanes, have since resigned from the agency.
Christie has denied he had anything to do with the lane closures and only became aware of them after the fact. However, last week, an attorney for Wildstein said in a letter to the Port Authority that "evidence exists" that Christie knew about the incident as it was happening.
Christie has vehemently denied the allegation. Last week his office sent a memo to supporters slamming Wildstein as untrustworthy and only out to help himself.
The requested information is due to the committee on February 24.
NJ Politics Roundup: Christie helicopter update, Hurricane Sandy hearing, and more
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie saw a few positive developments in the George Washington Bridge scandal on Tuesday.
The State Police said the Republican governor's helicopter did not fly over the bridge or Fort Lee during the controversial lane closures last September.
Christie's re-election campaign got permission to spend leftover cash and raise additional funds to cover the cost of answering two subpoenas from investigators.
Despite the issues, the Christie-led Republican Governors Association raised $6 million in January.
And Christie visited Chicago on a fundraising trip and got a chance to burnish his personality and record during a Q&A session.
Still, former Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said Christie held a news conference in Chicago to say Christie is either lying or incompetent.
Members of a Democratic-leaning national organization joined with residents of northern New Jersey who were stuck in traffic during the lane closures to call on Christie to resign if it turns out he was involved in the incident.
A new poll showed Christie now trails Hillary Clinton by 21 percentage points in a mock 2016 presidential race.
Lawyers hired by the governor's office to investigate the controversy are seeking an interview with the mayor of Fort Lee.
And a newly issued subpoena in the investigation seeks information related to former Port Authority official Bill Baroni's November testimony, an attorney said.
SANDY LEGISLATIVE HEARING
Housing advocates testifying at a legislative hearing in Trenton listed a series of problems they said has riddled the recovery process so far — but they also noted a chance to change course.
Meanwhile, residents still struggling to rebuild from Sandy aired their grievances with state recovery efforts at a forum.
RETIRED STATE POLICE COMMANDER PLEADS GUILTY
A retired State Police commander admitted to stealing more than $55,000 from a charitable fund he oversaw that was intended to help fellow troopers and their families, as well as obtaining a $19,000 loan from a subordinate colleague under false pretenses.
LIVE CHAT RECAP
Here's a recap of the latest weekly politics chat held by The Star-Ledger's Statehouse bureau.
GORDON: GOVERNOR’S OFFICE REFUSES TO APPEAR BEFORE LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE
Refusal to testify on Sandy aid snafu sets stage for future confrontation with joint panel investigating Bridgegate
In an announcement that could set the stage for a constitutional showdown, the Christie administration informed Sen. Robert Gordon (D-Bergen), chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee, that it is Christie administration policy that no members of the governor’s office are allowed to appear before legislative committees.
“This is a Christie administration policy. There was no such policy before this in previous administrations,” Gordon said yesterday on the eve of his committee hearing focusing on the months of delays by the Department of Community Affairs in getting $600 million in Sandy aid out to homeowners. “This is a huge disadvantage for our inquiry when so many of the decisions are made in the governor’s office.”
It would be an even larger disadvantage for the Joint Legislative Select Committee on Investigation that is probing the Bridgegate scandal, considering that 10 subpoenas issued by the panel -- including three new subpoenas issued yesterday -- went to current members of the governor’s office and two to former governor’s aides who have since been fired or resigned.
The committee cochairs, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), announced after yesterday’s meeting that another dozen subpoenas were going out. That includes one to the custodian of records for the Governor’s Aviation Unit requesting Gov. Chris Christie’s helicopter flight plans to see if he flew over the Fort Lee traffic jam on his return from the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2012, the third day of the George Washington Bridge lane closures, as. Democrats would like to know if Christie flew over Fort Lee with David Wildstein, Christie’s political enforcer at the Port Authority who ordered the secret lane closures.
A list ofissued by the committee yesterday, obtained by NJ Spotlight partner WNYC, shows that in addition to the subpoena to the governor’s aviation unit, three new subpoenas were issued to staffers in the governor’s office: Rosemary Iannacone, director of operations; Jeanne Ashmore, director of constituent relations; and Barbara Panebianco, executive assistant to Bridget Kelly. It was Kelly, Christie’s since-fired deputy chief of staff, who signaled Wildstein to order the lane closures in her now-infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email.
The remaining eight subpoenas went to Port Authority officials, most notably William “Pat” Schuber, the Port Authority board member and former GOP Bergen County Executive whom Weinberg has criticized for failing to provide information to her about Bridgegate last fall. Also subpoenaed was Philip Kwon, the Port Authority deputy counsel who reportedly spent four or five days briefing Bill Baroni, the Port Authority deputy executive director, prior to his November appearance before the Assembly Transportation Committee. At that time, Baroni insisted that the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. Subpoenas were also issued to two Baroni assistants, Matthew Bell and Gretchen DeMarco, and Wildstein special assistant Annelle Schwarz.
The committee yesterday voted to reject the contention of Kelly and Bill Stepien, whom Christie fired as his campaign strategist, that their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure protected them against turning over documents, emails, and other materials subpoenaed by the committee.
The committee resolutions were approved along party lines, with the eight Democrats voting in favor and the four Republicans abstaining. Weinberg said the GOP committee members raised no objections to the resolutions on constitutional grounds, and Wisniewski said the cochairs would meet with the committee’s special counsel, Reid Schar, to decide how to proceed if Stepien and Kelly continued to refuse to produce the subpoenaed documents.
Kevin Marino, Stepien’s attorney, issued a statement reiterating his client’s refusal to cooperate with the committee in the face of a parallel investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“We have provided the Committee with a detailed explanation of our constitutional and common law objections to the subpoena,” Marino said. “If the Committee asks a court to enforce that subpoena despite its legal infirmities, we will bring those objections to the court's attention.”