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NY Politics
Infighting Overshadows Bridge Report
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:19:12 EST
John Wisniewski, the Democratic co-chair of the New Jersey legislative committee that released a report on the George Washington Bridge lane closures, on ‘Meet the Press’ in January. Republicans on the committee have accused Mr. Wisniewski of using his role to advance his political ambitions.
John Wisniewski, the Democratic co-chair of the New Jersey legislative committee that released a report on the George Washington Bridge lane closures, on ‘Meet the Press’ in January. Republicans on the committee have accused Mr. Wisniewski of using his role to advance his political ambitions. NBC/Getty Images

Partisan fighting by members of a New Jersey legislative committee Monday overshadowed the findings of a report on the George Washington Bridge scandal that the panel eventually voted to release.

Republicans on the Democrat-led committee voted against releasing the 136-page report outlining its findings into the September 2013 lane closures that challenged Gov. Chris Christie ’s political ambitions.

Instead, the lawmakers issued a 119-page report of their own, saying Democrats had smeared Mr. Christie and should be investigated.

The official report was released, with all of the Democrats in favor of doing so.

No evidence has emerged that Mr. Christie knew about the lane closures, though the U.S. attorney’s office is investigating whether any laws were broken.

The Republicans said the panel’s leaders had one main goal: hobbling Mr. Christie.

They seized on the television appearances of John Wisniewski, the Democratic co-chair of the committee, who has often criticized the governor and who, they said, was using his role to advance his own ambitions.

Mr. Wisniewski said the committee was intent on finding answers to what caused the closures.

Democrats said they were stymied by a lack of access to key people—including David Wildstein, a former official with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Kelly, who wrote the email “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”—and that Mr. Christie’s aides were focused more on stopping bad publicity than determining the facts of what happened.

Both sides accused each other of leaking sensitive documents to the news media.

Pollster Patrick Murray said Mr. Christie had benefited from the partisan fighting, which overshadowed some of the juicier details the committee uncovered. He called Monday’s hearing “a lot of fireworks with little real ammunition.”

“When all is said and done, what the governor hopes people think of this committee is that it is very political and a witch hunt. Today’s back and forth will serve to reinforce that view,” said Mr. Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

There was little dispute over the contents of the report, which outlined the lane closures, how police fretted about them but were told to continue anyway, and the ensuing chaos in Fort Lee.

The report said the lane closures had a political motivation but didn’t explicitly endorse a popular theory—that former Christie aides wanted to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Mr. Christie in the 2013 gubernatorial election.

One night before Mr. Christie publicly denied his administration’s role in the bridge closings, his top political adviser, Mike DuHaime, had a 73-minute telephone conversation with Mr. Wildstein, who is accused of engineering the closures. There was a flurry of meetings and calls before Mr. Christie’s news conference in December 2013, showing his administration’s concern even as officials appeared calm in public.

Mr. Christie and Regina Egea, now the governor’s chief of staff, exchanged 12 text messages during one day of testimony about the closures. Ms. Egea has since said she deleted the texts.

Mr. Christie has said he doesn’t remember the context of the messages. The governor’s office declined to comment Monday on behalf of Ms. Egea.

How the committee moves forward is unclear. Mr. Wisniewski said the committee would like to still call witnesses if allowed by the U.S. attorney’s office. Members of the committee could instead push for a greater examination of the Port Authority or investigate other matters.



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