U.S. Attorney wants documents related to the George Washington Bridge lane closures.
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's scandal-plagued January just got worse.
Federal prosecutors are advancing the George Washington Bridge lane-closure investigation and have subpoenaed documents from Christie's re-election committee and the state GOP.
Christie has said he was not involved in the plot to close access lanes to the bridge that spans the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York in September. He fired his deputy chief of staff when her involvement in the plot, which created gridlock over four days, became public. He also says he will cooperate in "appropriate" investigations.
Even with no direct evidence linking Christie to the bridge incident at this point, the new batch of subpoenas puts the Republican governor in a difficult spot, said Rob Pallitto, an associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University.
Many of Christie's senior staffers were included in a set of 20 subpoenas sent out by a New Jersey Assembly investigative panel last week. His now-fired campaign manager Bill Stepien also received a subpoena. The announcement of Stepien's demise came at the same news conference where Christie announced he was sacking Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff whose e-mails indicated she had prior knowledge of the lane closures. Stepien was released because he made derogatory comments about the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., in e-mails as media attention to the lane closings grew.
"The federal subpoena certainly creates new complications for the governor. First of all it reaches people who are not under his control, and second it comes from the federal government. These elements of the probe will make it more difficult for Christie to vet or to limit the information being released," said Pallitto.
The attorney representing both Christie's re-election committee and the New Jersey State Republican Committee confirmed that the "Bridgegate" subpoenas were issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey.
Mark Sheridan from the Patton Boggs law firm said the organizations "intend to cooperate."
"Patton Boggs has been retained to represent the Christie for Governor re-election campaign and the New Jersey Republican State Committee in connection with investigations being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the legislative committee," Sheridan said. "The campaign and the state party intend to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's office and the state legislative committee and will respond to the subpoenas accordingly."
Meanwhile, New Jersey lawmakers said they plan to continue efforts to get to the bottom of why traffic in the bridge's host town of Fort Lee became tangled for four days in September, with votes scheduled in the Senate and Assembly to merge two investigative committees into one.
Assemblyman John Wizniewski — who, along with Sen. Loretta Weinberg, will be the co-chair of the joint committee — said the committee would take care not to step on the U.S. Attorney's probe.
"It's one of many considerations," Wizniewski said. "We're going to consult with our counsel to make sure that we're not crossing our jurisdictional lines."
The Christie administration is also feeling increasing heat from a separate investigation into Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's claims that Sandy relief aid was held hostage in order to gain approval of a redevelopment project in the Hudson County city. The FBI has started interviewing aides to Zimmer and others who may have information, according to NBC News, which cited three sources.
Zimmer said last week that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable both made it clear to her in May 2013 that the governor was seeking approval of a development in Hoboken in exchange for delivering millions of dollars in post-Sandy flood mitigation aid to the city. Guadagno and Constable deny it. Christie hasn't spoken to the charges. He hasn't held a media briefing since his Jan. 9 "Bridgegate" apology news conference.
No details were available on the focus of the U.S. Attorney's inquiry and Rebekah Carmichael, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said the office "can neither confirm nor deny taking specific investigative actions."
However, New York attorney Eric Dixon, who has represented political candidates in unrelated investigations, said the fast turnaround on the case by Paul Fishman, head of the U.S. Attorney's Office in the state, is being done for a reason.
"Some people might want to destroy evidence before it is requested, as they would have a plausible defense. Issuance of subpoena destroys that escape hatch," said Dixon.