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'Bridgegate' Scandal, Coverup Reach Close to Christie

Bridge-gate is unlikely to end Christie’s presidential ambitions, Murray and Ben Dworkin, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Center for New Jersey Politics, agreed, but it does cause problems.

“What this bridge controversy story does is that it shifts the narrative,” Dworkin said. “Christie’s no longer just a bully, he’s now someone who abuses power.”

“We’re nowhere near writing a eulogy for the Christie presidential campaign,” Murray said, “But this will be something everybody talks about, and the question is how it is going to play with the Republican elite and party donors. One of the questions nagging them about Chris Christie is the complaint of the Romney campaign that he may not have been forthcoming with them about what else is out there.

“If it hadn’t been somebody in the administration who was linked to the scandal -- if it was just somebody in his campaign or family or a friend -- it might have been possible for him to argue that they should not extend the Wisniewski committee’s subpoena powers. But he can’t lean on (Senate President Stephen) Sweeney or Prieto to stop this investigation now.”

Sweeney and South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, who teamed up with Christie to pass the pension and tenure overhauls that gave him a national reputation as a bipartisan problem-solver, publicly defended Christie’s personal integrity in December, but Sweeney acknowledged yesterday he was troubled by the latest disclosures. In any case, Prieto said yesterday he expected to extend Wisniewski’s subpoena powers after the current legislative session ends Tuesday.

Wisniewski made it clear yesterday his probe is just getting underway. He and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), whose district includes Fort Lee and who was the first legislator to question the lane closures, spent much of yesterday afternoon’s press conference discussing a wide range of unanswered questions.

First, Kelly’s August 13 email to Wildstein, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to which Wildstein replied “Got it,” clearly indicates previous discussions occurred before that day, Wisniewski said.

The assemblyman noted that Christie and Samson, the Port Authority chairman, had been scheduled to meet several days before the email was sent. There is also the question of how Kelly knew that Sokolich, Fort Lee’s mayor, had refused to endorse Christie or angered Christie’s people in a way that would merit the political retaliation that followed, he said.

One obvious source is Christie’s campaign manager, Stepien, who reportedly identified the 40-year-old Kelly, a former aide to Assemblyman David Russo (R-Bergen), as a promising political operative in Bergen County and brought her into the governor’s office as director of legislative affairs. She replaced Stepien as deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs when he left to run the 2013 Christie reelection campaign,

Second, who approached Sokolich about joining the more than 50 Democratic elected officials who would eventually endorse Christie? Wisniewski said he originally had intended to call both Sokolich and the Fort Lee police chief to testify before his committee today, but that the more than 3,000 pages of emails he obtained by subpoenas to Wildstein, Baroni, Foye, and other Port Authority officials pushed their testimony further down his list of priorities.

He said he would call Sokolich to testify in the future. Weinberg said Sokolich told her in numerous conversations that the reason he had not spoken up publicly about the lane closures was that he feared further political reprisals against his town in the future – an assertion that the now-famous Fort Lee mayor repeated in an interview on CNN Television yesterday, now that the disclosure of the emails have provided him and his town with a measure of immunity.

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