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NJ Democrat lawmaker on traffic scandal: 'I do think laws have been broken'

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 11:54 AM EST, Sun January 12, 2014
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in unfolding controversies over alleged political payback. The primary scandal involves suggestions key aides and supporters orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection. A separate controversy involves a federal watchdog's review of whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is embroiled in unfolding controversies over alleged political payback. The primary scandal involves suggestions key aides and supporters orchestrated traffic gridlock around the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year to punish that town's mayor for not endorsing Christie's reelection. A separate controversy involves a federal watchdog's review of whether Christie improperly used Superstorm Sandy funds to produce tourism ads starring him and his family.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Lawmakers will hold special session Thursday to vote on extending probe
  • NEW: Gov. Chris Christie will still raise money for GOP governor in Florida next week
  • Christie's team used public assets for retribution, says Democrat leading probe
  • It "just strains believability" that Christie didn't know of lane closures, he says

(CNN) -- The Democratic New Jersey legislator leading an investigation into Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration says he believes laws were broken when the governor's aides ordered lane closures at the nation's busiest bridge.

"I do think laws have been broken," State Assemblyman John Wisniewski told CNN's Victor Blackwell and Christi Paul on Saturday. "Public resources -- the bridge, police officers -- all were used for a political purpose, for some type of retribution, and that violates the law."

Legislators need to "make sure any violations of law are addressed," said Wisniewski, who's also deputy speaker.

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Christie, who had no public activities scheduled for Saturday, and his spokesman couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Assembly Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto, a Democrat, will call a special session Thursday so lawmakers can vote on extending the subpoena power of the investigation led by Wisniewski, Prieto said.

The past week's revelations "clearly show the need for a continued thorough investigation by the New Jersey General Assembly," Prieto said. "Many questions remain unanswered about this threat to public safety and abuse of power."

Even while Democrats call to expand the investigation, Florida Republicans confirmed Saturday that Christie will visit that state next week to raise money for the re-election effort of Gov. Rick Scott.

Documents: Christie appointees stonewalled queries into lane closures

"Yes, Christie will be here next weekend, and we are looking forward to it," Florida GOP spokesperson Susan Hepworth said.

In New Jersey, Wisniewski said the legislative committee's investigation into the scandal "would be made immeasurably simpler if the governor's office said, 'Please tell us what you'd like. We'll turn over all those documents.'"

"If the governor really meant what he said, that he wants to get to the bottom of it ... it would only be fair for him to make those documents available," Wisniewski said.

On Friday, the New Jersey State Assembly committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal released more than 2,000 pages of documents suggesting politics was behind the lane closures and showing top Christie aides tried to stonewall media inquiries into the matter.

Read the documents

Christie, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, has strongly denied involvement in how his aides ordered the lane closures at the bridge as revenge against a neighboring Democrat mayor who refused to endorse Christie in his successful gubernatorial campaign last November.

The state legislative committee has yet to find any documents indicating Christie was involved in the lane closures, Wisniewski said Saturday.

But Wisniewski charged that it "just strains believability" that Christie had no knowledge of how his staff orchestrated the lane closures, which created public safety hazards in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where Mayor Mark Sokolich had opposed Christie's re-election effort.

Wisniewski also suggested that retribution against the Fort Lee mayor was the motive behind the lane closures to the bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York, from September 9 to September 13.

"I think anything's possible," Wisniewski said. "One thing's clear: The anger that was displayed [...] by people in the governor's circle after the lane closure was terminated.

"Why are they so angry? Why are they so mad at this process being shut down," Wisniewski asked.

Plenty in his own party happy to see Christie get comeuppance

Christie this week fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, for her role in the lane closure, which was captured in e-mail correspondence that was subpoenaed by Democrats investigating the matter.

The e-mail exchanges are among the most damaging evidence so far supporting their assertions the lane closures were politically motivated. The correspondence began three weeks before access lanes to the bridge were closed.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly said in an e-mail to David Wildstein, then the highest-level appointee representing the state at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge connecting the two states.

"Got it," Wildstein replied.

Wildstein resigned last month from the port authority, where he was the director of interstate capital projects.

Wildstein asserted the lane closures were part of a traffic study.

Legal woes lurk for Christie over scandal

CNN's Chris Kokenes and Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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