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NJ Lawmakers Let GOPer Remain On Bridge Investigation Despite Questions

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AP Photo / Mel Evans

State Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R) was the only Republican from the Senate to be named Monday to a special New Jersey committee investigating the scandals that have embroiled Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration, including the September lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.

The committee, which was approved by both houses of the state's legislature and includes members of each, will replace separate Assembly and Senate committees that were set up to look into the closures, which caused a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J.

As TPM has reported, O'Toole was named to the state Senate's original bridge scandal committee despite questions about his possible contact last year with the very person who ordered the closures.

The creation of the special committee gave lawmakers a chance to purge O'Toole from the investigation, but he instead wound up being kept on.

Questions about the senator's role arose earlier this month after an email became public during the investigation that raised the possibility O'Toole spoke with former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein on Dec. 5, the day before Wildstein announced his resignation from the agency.

"Spoke with O'Toole this morning and he will talk with you later today," Wildstein wrote on Dec. 5 to Gov. Chris Christie (R) spokesperson Michael Drewniak.

In an interview with TPM earlier this month, O'Toole's chief of staff, Al Barlas, could not say one way or the other whether his boss had spoken with Wildstein on Dec. 5.

"I can't confirm that, because I don't know," Barlas said.

TPM spoke with Barlas following a tip from a reader, who said that O'Toole's office had confirmed to him that Wildstein and O'Toole spoke on Dec. 5. Barlas said the reader "must have misunderstood."

The Newark Star-Ledger asked O'Toole directly about the issue in a Jan. 16 interview.

"I don't know what that means," O'Toole said of the Wildstein email.

But when TPM earlier this month asked New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) about the email, she said that, from reading it, she would assume that the "O'Toole" mentioned referred to the senator.

"If that is so, I assume that Sen. O'Toole will clear up that there will be no conflict to his serving on the committee," Weinberg said at the time.

O'Toole and Barlas did not immediately respond to requests for comment from TPM on Monday.

About The Author

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Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website?s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl@talkingpointsmemo.com