Christie also defended Bill Baroni, whose resignation as Port Authority deputy executive director he announced last Friday, adding that he listened to Baroni’s livecast testimony before Wisniewski’s committee. “I don’t assume people are lying, especially not people like Sen. Baroni who I have known for a very long time,” he said.
The governor insisted that not even “the most partisan folks here have charged that anything that Sen. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein has done was criminal,” and predicted that the Wall Street Journal would owe Baroni and Wildstein an apology for tying the lane closures to partisan retaliation against Sokolich.
Christie said the entire controversy was overblown, questioning how bad the traffic delays could have been if it took four days for Sokolich to reach Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye to complain. “Did he lose the phone number?” Christie asked.
Christie criticized reporters for “chasing” the Bridge-gate story instead of writing about his efforts to lower the state’s unemployment rate or reach a compromise on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, which are “more important to the people of New Jersey than a couple of cones and a couple of lanes for four days.”
Asked about Christie’s remarks, Wisniewski responded angrily that “this incident was not a traffic cone joke, it is about the abuse of power and the effort to conceal that abuse of power by the governor’s two highest-level appointments to the Port Authority, who closed traffic lanes from Fort Lee leading into the George Washington Bridge and concealed it from the executive director of the Port Authority, the mayor of Fort Lee. and the chief of police."
“In every organization, people take their cues and model their behavior after the person in charge, and it is a reflection on the governor’s leadership that the people he appointed felt at ease abusing their power,” he said.
Wisniewski disclosed that his committee has received the documents subpoenaed from the Port Authority and that he has given Baroni and Wildstein, who have retained criminal attorneys, until Monday to comply with their subpoenas. After he and his staff have reviewed the documents, Wisniewski has said he plans to subpoena their testimony under oath at another Assembly Transportation Committee hearing early in January.
He said Christie’s dismissal of the scandal as “nothing more than partisan politics” ignores the “rampant dysfunction” at the Port Authority.
“Shifting explanations for the Port Authority’s alleged traffic study, the governor’s aggressive defense of Mr. Wildstein and Mr. Baroni, and the threat to public safety resulting from their actions all raise suspicions that there is still more to be learned,” Wisniewski warned. “We will get the answers whether the governor likes it or not.”
Sweeney praised Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), whose district includes Fort Lee, for taking the lead role on the Bridge-gate investigation in New Jersey, adding that the Senate chose not to conduct its own separate committee hearings to avoid turning the issue into a “partisan circus.”
As Weinberg announced Monday, she and Wisniewski introduced Senate and Assembly resolutions yesterday asking Congress to conduct a comprehensive study of the Port Authority in the wake of a U.S. General Accounting Office report issued four months ago that criticized the agency for its lack of transparency and accountability with regard to last year’s major toll hike.
But Murray, the Monmouth University pollster, and Ben Dworkin, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics, noted that what’s happening outside New Jersey politically is as important as what’s happening inside.
“The reason this story has legs is because the national media is focusing attention on Christie as the presumptive favorite for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination,” Dworkin said in an interview earlier this week. “The national Democrats also are targeting Christie, so the liberal blogosphere is taking up the cause.”