TRENTON, New Jersey -- The joint legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal on Monday officially released an interim report on its year-long probe, saying it has found no conclusive evidence that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was either aware or not of the plot prior to or during the closures, which ensnared thousands of commuters in September of last year.
The 136-page report notes, however, that several key witnesses refused to testify, citing their Fifth Amendment rights. Some also were not allowed due to an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey.
The report also states that several unanswered questions remain and the picture is not complete, including just why the lanes were closed and who ordered them closed in the first place.
"What is clear, though, is the governor's office showed a curious lack of curiosity to mounting indications that serious harms had been inflicted on thousands of New Jersey motorists for political rather than legitimate policy reasons,'' said Assemblyman John Wisniewski of state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, both Democrats who are spearheading the investigation in a joint statement.
The committee voted to release the interim report by an 8-4 vote, with Democrats in favor of the move and Republicans against it.
The four GOPers released a 119-page statement before the hearing accusing Wisniewski of abusing the purpose of the investigation to “take down Chris Christie, the biggest political threat to state and national Democrats, and in dong so, become the next Democrat gubernatorial candidate.”
The four Republicans on the panel include Sen. Kevin O’Toole, and Assembly members Amy Handlin, Michael Patrick Carroll, and Holly Schepisi. O'Toole added at the meeting at the state house in Trenton, "What we have here is a runaway committee, perhaps driven by an agenda not rooted in determining the truth but by blind political ambition."
Wisniewski, however, called the probe the “greatest example of legislative oversight in our state’s history.” He also said that the panel is ready to continue its work when more witnesses and information become available.
The assemblyman also questioned Christie’s claim he had no prior knowledge of the plot. “When did pleading ignorance become the acceptable alternative to accepting responsibility?” Wisniewski asked.
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Weinberg said at the meeting that there is absolutely “no evidence of a traffic study,” which several authorities initially insisted as the reason for the traffic jams.
The governor isn’t out of the woods just yet. A federal investigation into so-called “Bridgegate” is ongoing, and NBC New York reported last week that at least half a dozen potential federal indictments may be handed down to former Christie staffers and former Port Authority officials in connection scandal. The indictments could come as early as January, the sources said, and could include charges related to an apparent conspiracy to cover up the plot. Additionally, NBC New York said on Monday afternoon, after the hearing, that one of the targets associated with the lane closure plan says they plan on being indicted soon after the first of the year.
Some claimed the move was political retribution aimed at Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, New Jersey, because he did not endorse Christie for reelection. Top Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, along with others close to the governor, were linked to the closure. Kelly later resigned.
Christie has said he has not been issued a subpoena by federal prosecutors but is willing to fully cooperate. When asked earlier this year if he would testify if called by the state legislative panel, Christie refused to say. And Democrats on that panel have criticized the governor for refusing to provide some documents by invoking executive privilege.
Christie’s popularity ratings took a hit immediately after the scandal but those numbers have since stabilized. The potential 2016 presidential candidate was asked about the panel’s report during his trip in Canada last week and had little to say. “I’m here to talk about Canada,” the governor said. “Not that.”