In fact, Sweeney, who declared last week that the Democratic-controlled Legislature would set the agenda for New Jersey, offered more specific goals in his six-sentence press release than Christie did in his 20-minute address.
Calling Christie’s speech “long on rhetoric and short on solutions,” Sweeney declared, “If the governor is honest about wanting to help all New Jerseyans, then let’s finally pass some of the initiatives I have been fighting for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, restoring the Homestead Rebate, and asking millionaires to pay their fair share.”
It was the Democratic Legislature that seized the agenda yesterday with a joint Statehouse Annex press conference called by Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) just 45 minutes before Christie’s Inauguration to announce their agreement to set up a joint Senate and Assembly committee with subpoena powers to investigate Bridgegate and other allegations of abuses of power by the Christie administration. "We need to move forward in a unified way to get to the bottom of these issues that are seemingly growing every minute," said Sweeney.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), whose Assembly Transportation Committee subpoenas produced the bombshell email showing that Bridget Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, ordered the George Washington Bridge lane closures, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), who was the first to confront the Port Authority on the suspicious lane closures in Fort Lee, will co-chair the Joint Legislative Select Committee on Investigation.
Prieto and Sweeney said the Assembly and Senate would meet tomorrow to approve the new committee, and would ensure that the 20 subpoenas issued by Wisniewski’s Assembly Select Committee on Investigation last Thursday night would remain in place.
The committee members were not named yesterday, but in a nod to Wisniewski’s and the Assembly’s lead role in the investigation so far, Prieto and Sweeney have tentatively agreed that the panel will include eight Assembly members (five Democrats and three Republicans) and four senators (three Democrats and one Republican)
Subpoenaed documents are due on February 3 from the governor’s office, Christie’s current and incoming chief of staff, his top two communications aides, the deputy chief of staff and campaign manager he fired, his Port Authority chairman, and two top Port Authority officials directly involved in the bridge lane closures who have resigned, and other administration and Port Authority officials.
Sweeney said the timing of the press conference right before the inauguration was not intentional. “The Speaker and I just concluded this 15 minutes ago,” Sweeney said. “This isn’t a thumb in the eye of the governor.”
Wisniewski, for one, has always signaled his expectation that the two houses would work together on a joint probe. In fact, Weinberg met Monday with Reid Schar, the special counsel the Wisniewski committee had already hired based on his successful prosecution of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges, in the expectation that their two committee investigations would merge.
“We’re glad to come to this agreement where we can bring both the Assembly and the Senate together to work for the common purpose of getting to the bottom of the very thorny question of the abuse of power and the attempted coverup of that abuse of power,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski said it was “premature” for the new joint committee to launch an investigation of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s charge that Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno threatened that the Christie administration would withhold Sandy aid from the city unless she won city council approval for a Rockefeller Group high-rise represented by the law firm of David Samson, Christie’s Port Authority chairman who has already been subpoenaed in the Bridgegate scandal.
“Clearly, she raises serious allegations,” Wisniewski said of Zimmer. “There’s a lot of facts swirling about with who said what when.”
But Wisniewski added that “the first order of business for this committee is to follow the information we have to date where we have somebody in the governor’s office abusing power, and we see attempts to cover up that abuse of power. We’ll follow that trail wherever it leads, but we’re not going to switch gears now and start following another investigation.”
Weinberg agreed. “In terms of the current subpoenas, we have a major question that’s out there: Who ordered Bridget Kelly to issue her email and why?” Weinberg asked, referring to the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email that Kelly sent to David Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority. “We’re looking forward to seeing the documents in the first week in February when they’re due and we’re looking forward to getting answers to that as we move along on this road. I don’t know where it’s going to lead us, but I know we have a focus on where we started and we need to get to it.”
Meanwhile, Zimmer, who met with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for two hours Sunday afternoon and handed over pages from a contemporaneous diary detailing Guadagno’s alleged threat and other related emails, released an April 23, 2013 letter she sent to Christie as further evidence that she has had concerns for a long time about political pressure to approve the Rockefeller Group project in exchange for Sandy aid.