New Jersey lawmakers want to know whether Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) re-election campaign communicated with a former Port Authority official prior to his testimony in November in which he blamed George Washington Bridge lane closures on a “traffic study.”
The campaign’s attorney, Mark Sheridan, told TPM on Tuesday that the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the closure sent the campaign a subpoena this week demanding any material related to testimony former Port Authority official Bill Baroni gave at a hearing before the Assembly’s transportation committee. Sheridan said the subpoena also demanded any communications between the campaign and the mayor at the center of the scandal.
“The new subpoena requests documents relating to and regarding communications with the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, and also requests any and all documents relating to the testimony of Bill Baroni before the legislature’s transportation committee,” Sheridan said.
The closure of the lanes in September led to days of gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J. Democrats in the state have alleged the lanes were closed to retaliate against Sokolich because he did not endorse Christie’s re-election bid. At the hearing before the Assembly transportation committee, which was initially investigating the closures, Baroni said they were the result of a traffic study.
Since that hearing, Baroni’s explanation has been disputed by Democrats, including one of the co-chairs of a special committee the legislature established in January to investigate the matter. Committee Co-Chair Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D) told TPM last week he is certain the traffic study was “just not real” based on documents that have been returned from subpoenas so far.
Baroni was appointed by Christie to be the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge. He resigned in December as questions about the closures mounted.
In addition to the subpoena, there are other indications lawmakers have questions about Baroni’s testimony.
Phillip Kwon, the Port Authority’s deputy counsel, was among the people who were also issued subpoenas this week. In a letter dated Jan. 31, another former Christie Port Authority appointee said through his own attorney that Baroni was counseled by an agency lawyer for “a period of four to five days” prior to his testimony. The Wall Street Journal subsequently reported Kwon was the attorney who prepped Baroni.
Christie’s campaign received an earlier subpoena from the special committee in January. Sheridan explained that first subpoena solely requested materials relating to the “decision to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge” and did not include the additional communications with Baroni and Sokolich. The campaign also received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office that Sheridan described as “narrower than the Legislature’s” subpoenas.
“It just talks about the closures,” Sheridan said.
Sheridan appeared Tuesday at a meeting of the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission to ask whether the campaign could raise funds to pay for expenses associated with the subpoenas from the committee and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The commission agreed to allow the campaign to fundraise for its legal expenses.