The scandal over lane closures at the George Washington Bridge is spreading within New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s inner circle.
And a top New Jersey lawmaker issued a warning to the embattled governor on Saturday. New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Democrat who chairs the legislative panel that is investigating the lane closures, told NBC News that Christie could face impeachment if it is revealed the governor had knowledge of the alleged plot to get political revenge against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.“Having people use their official position to have a political game is a crime. So if those tie back to the governor in any way, it clearly becomes an impeachable offense,” Wisniewski said in an interview. He also said he finds it “implausible” that Christie really didn’t know what his close aides were up to.
Newly released documents show that a top Christie aide received an angry warning about the closures, which started on Sept. 9 and caused massive gridlock for four days.
The complaint came from Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority, who sent a scathing email to Bill Baroni, the Port Authority’s deputy executive director, on Sept. 13. Foye called the lane closures a “hasty and ill-advised decision” that was likely illegal. A trove of documents released Friday by the New Jersey Legislature showed that Baroni forwarded Foye’s complaint to Regina Egea, a senior Christie aide and the governor’s pick to be his new chief of staff, just three hours after it was originally sent.
“This puts Foye’s complaint right into the governor’s office,” Tom Hester, spokesman for New Jersey Assembly Democrats, told NBC News’ Michael Isikoff Saturday. Hester said the revelation makes Egea a likely candidate for subpoena by the legislative committee investigating the plot.
As Isikoff reported, the email raises questions about what Egea told Christie when the governor assembled his top aides to ask what they knew about the bridge plot. There is no evidence that Egea responded to the email, but the message demonstrates that people within the governor’s office were notified that the lane closures were causing serious political headaches.
Christie has strenuously denied that he had any knowledge of political motivations behind the lane closures, and he has already fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who emails and text messages reveal had direct involvement in the plan.
The lane closures, on the New Jersey side of the bridge, the nation’s busiest, were apparently an act of political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for not endorsing Christie’s in his re-election bid.
Included in the Friday document dump was a Sept. 12 letter to Baroni from Fort Lee Mayor Mayor Mark Sokolich, who wrote, “Many members of the public have indicated to me that the Port Authority Police officers are advising commuters in response to their complaints that this recent traffic debacle is the result of a decision that I, as the mayor, recently made.”
David Wildstein, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority, invoked his 5th Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination during his testimony to the State Assembly on Thursday. Emails show that he was present at the bridge on Sept. 9, when the bridge lanes were closed, and that he was informed that day that emergency response vehicles were being delayed by the lane closures.
The bridge scandal has led to the postponement of the confirmation hearing of Kevin O’Dowd, Christie’s former chief of staff, to become state attorney general. Nicholas Scutari, chair of New Jersey’s State Senate Judiciary Committee, said on msnbc Friday that he had not yet set a new hearing date.
The Democratic Speaker-elect of the New Jersey Assembly, Vincent Prieto, said Saturday that he plans to call the Assembly into special session Thursday to reauthorize subpoena power in the bridge investigation.
“The documents released this week related to the George Washington Bridge situation clearly show the need for a continued thorough investigation by the New Jersey General Assembly. Many questions remain unanswered about this threat to public safety and abuse of power,” he said in a statement.