Wisniewski: Bridgegate panel’s work ‘enormously successful’
The New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation probing the unannounced lane closures at the George Washington Bridge last September has no future hearings scheduled because they don't want to interfere with a federal criminal probe by the U.S. Attorney's Office. Taking a look back at the SCI's work, the panel's co-chair is positive.
"I think in the context of the ground we have laid and the facts we have uncovered, and what we have set up for future legislatures to exercise their prerogatives - this committee has been an enormous success," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville).
For four days in September, access lanes in Fort Lee leading to the George Washington Bridge were shutdown without prior warning. The closures led to massive traffic jams as the school year began and continued through the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Many Democrats said it was done as political payback because Fort Lee's Democratic mayor refused to endorse Gov. Chris Christie's re-election bid.
"I would hope that what people would keep in mind is that what we are looking to do is fix a problem that everybody thought was confined simply to the Port Authority, but now we know has a wider scope that includes the governor's office," Wisniewski said.
In January, it was uncovered that before the lanes were closed Christie's thenDeputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly sent an email to then Port Authority official David Wildstein in which Kelly wrote, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein replied, "Got it." That was when the scandal exploded and dominated news coverage for weeks. At Christie's directive, Kelly was fired and Wildstein left the Port Authority.
"It's our duty and our role to make sure there are no abuses of power in the exercise by the governor's office," Wisniewski said.
Following the public release of Kelly's email, Christie also cut ties with his two-time campaign manager and political confidant, Bill Stepien. Kelly and Stepien both won a court battle when a judge sided with them and ruled they did not have to testify before the SCI because it could violate their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"What I would have hoped is that the individuals that we have approached for information would have, in some cases been more cooperative. It's frustrating when there are individuals who are taking their constitutionally prescribed rights, and certainly they're entitled to take the Fifth Amendment, but at the same time when the protestations are that nobody's done anything wrong it is a little confusing," Wisniewski said.
After Kelly's email went public, Christie commissioned an internal investigation. The law firm he hired concluded that the governor did notthing wrong which is what Christie has publicly stated from the very beginning. Critics call the report a whitewash.
While Wisniewski called the committee's work "enormously successful," his critics disagreed. They said because the SCI hearings uncovered nothing that isn't already in the internal report, the entire exercise was a waste of time and taxpayer money.