TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Two key figures in a political payback plot that has overshadowed Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for two months will attempt to convince a judge that they should not be forced to turn over documents to a legislative investigatory panel.
Lawyers for former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly have asked a judge in Mercer County to throw out their subpoenas, which seek documents involving a plot to create massive traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge.
Oral arguments are scheduled for Tuesday.
The lawyers say handing over personal emails, text messages and planning calendars would be like testifying against themselves. They also cite an ongoing federal criminal investigation and the possibility of prosecution as a legal basis for not complying with the legislative probe.
Lawyers for the legislative panel say a blanket refusal to comply should not be allowed.
In a court filing Friday, the lawyers said in order to claim privilege, witnesses like Stepien and Kelly must raise specific objections to particular requests or questions.
Instead, the lawyers said, Stepien is arguing that the subpoena is too broad when it asks for records of his conversations with certain people, and too narrow when it asks that he self-select documents that involve a plot by Christie aides to tie up traffic near the heavily traveled bridge. Their response to Kelly is due Monday.
If granted, Stepien’s claim against self-incrimination would eviscerate the government’s ability to use subpoenas to conduct investigations, the lawyers argued.
Stepien lawyer Kevin Marino asserts his client’s innocence in underscored text while arguing in a court filing that a lack of guilt by “no means ensures, or even suggests, that Stepien will not be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances if forced to comply with the subpoena.”
Lawyers for Stepien and Kelly say they fear the possibility of criminal prosecution if they comply.
In papers filed Friday, Kelly lawyer Michael Crtitchley said federal authorities have requested interviews with Kelly, her parents, her ex-husband and former in-laws. The lawyers say none of them has been willing to talk.
He argues that the right not to self-incriminate extends to documents as well as testimony and that even confirming whether certain documents exist could subject Kelly to prosecution. Marino has made similar claims on behalf of Stepien, who also has been pursued by federal authorities.
Stepien was first contacted by the FBI in January, Marino said, and two agents visited his apartment last month, leaving their cards when Stepien wasn’t home.
Christie fired Kelly in January after her text message saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” was made public.
Stepien and Kelly are fighting efforts by the special legislative investigative committee to force them to hand over more documents about the September lane closings that caused massive traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee and have ensnared Christie, a possible contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
More than a dozen other people and organizations close to Christie have complied with document subpoenas from the legislative panel, which is sifting through thousands of pages of materials.
There has been no evidence directly linking Christie to the planning or execution of the plot.
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