(Corrects 13th paragraph to note Prieto says Wisniewski, not
Prieto, was acting for political reasons)
By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, March 30 A day after two former allies
of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were sentenced to prison
in the "Bridgegate" scandal, a state lawmaker who helped uncover
the scheme to cause massive traffic jams over a political slight
wants to keep pushing for answers to the two biggest unanswered
What did the governor know about the lane closures at the
George Washington Bridge, and when did he know it?
To learn the truth, the legislature's Bridgegate probe
should be resumed, with Christie subpoenaed and required to
testify, said Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who
co-chaired a special committee that unearthed the damning emails
and texts revealing the plot. He also is campaigning to replace
Christie as governor.
But fellow Democratic leaders in the state legislature
offered a lukewarm response, saying it was not clear what
further investigation would accomplish.
Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, was
sentenced on Wednesday to 1-1/2 years in prison. Bill Baroni,
former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey, got a prison sentence of two years.
Along with David Wildstein, another former Port Authority
executive who pleaded guilty, they are the only officials
charged in connection with the shutdown of access lanes at the
bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, in September 2013.
The resulting traffic nightmare was intended to punish the
town's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for declining to endorse
Christie's re-election campaign.
Christie has denied any involvement, but the fallout damaged
his unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign and saddled him with
historically low approval ratings at home. A spokesman did not
respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
At trial, numerous witnesses, including close Christie
advisers, testified that the governor and his inner circle were
aware of the lane closures much earlier than they admitted
publicly. Following her sentencing, Kelly said she refused to be
a "scapegoat" and vowed to fight her conviction.
The criminal case might never have existed had it not been
for the legislative committee, which used its subpoena power to
secure communications between Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein. Those
documents included the now-infamous email from Kelly to
Wildstein saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
"We need to follow the facts wherever they go," Wisniewski
said in a phone interview. He noted that Christie previously
invoked executive privilege to avoid turning over texts and
emails in what he called a "Nixonian" move.
But the assembly speaker, Democrat Vincent Prieto, said in a
statement it was "unlikely after the federal trial that
additional hearings or subpoenas will provide new information."
Prieto, whose approval would be needed to set up a new
committee, also criticized Wisniewski for sending out a campaign
statement calling for a renewed investigation, saying Wisniewski
was using the issue for political reasons.
Christie cannot run for another term this year due to term
Wisniewski, however, said leaving the investigation
half-finished would allow such abuses to occur again.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a longtime Christie foe who
co-chaired the investigative committee, said she had "mixed
feelings" about further action.
"I'm not sure what our goal would be," Weinberg, a Democrat,
said in a phone interview. She said it was not clear whether the
legislature could force Christie to testify under oath or gain
access to his communications.
Christie's status as a lame-duck governor is another factor
weighing against a renewed probe, as is the potential cost to
taxpayers, Weinberg said.
The target of the scheme, Sokolich, the Fort Lee mayor, said
it was obvious the plot extended beyond the three charged
"There were many others who were half a text or one email
conversation away from getting indicted," he said, adding that
Christie has already been found guilty in the court of public
"I guess we'll never know for sure," Sokolich said. "Welcome
to Jersey politics."
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Gregorio and Leslie