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Lawmakers pledge to continue probing New Jersey bridge scandal

Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gestures as he takes the stage at his election night party in Asbury Park, New Jersey November
Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gestures as he takes the stage at his election night party in Asbury Park, New Jersey November

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey lawmakers on Saturday pledged to continue to seek more details in the bridge scandal engulfing Governor Chris Christie, with the Democratic Assembly speaker-elect saying he planned to call the body into special session.

At issue is the role of the governor, his staff and political allies in the closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge and the huge traffic jams that resulted.

The calls for a continued legislative investigation came a day after more than 1,000 pages of papers subpoenaed by state lawmakers were made public.

The papers relate to revelations that a member of Christie's staff appeared to have orchestrated the traffic jams, which severely affected the town of Fort Lee over four days in September, in what may have been political payback because the town's Democratic mayor did not endorse Christie's re-election.

Christie, a powerful figure in the Republican Party and a likely contender for the White House in 2016, has adamantly denied any knowledge of a scheme to snarl traffic.

"The documents released this week related to the George Washington Bridge situation clearly show the need for a continued thorough investigation by the New Jersey General Assembly," Assembly Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto said in a statement.

"Many questions remain unanswered about this threat to public safety and abuse of power," he said. "I expect to call the Assembly into special session on Thursday to consider legislation that would reauthorize subpoena power so this investigation can continue."

Prieto is set to take the oath as speaker this coming week.

On Thursday, Christie apologized for the traffic jams and said he had fired a top aide, Bridget Kelly, and severed political ties with his former campaign manager after emails surfaced that seemed to link them to the scandal.

Two of Christie's appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bi-state agency that oversees the bridge and other transportation facilities in the region, have resigned over controversy arising from the closures.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, told CNN on Saturday he would on Monday ask Christie and his staff to hand over more correspondence and documents related to the bridge scandal.

"There's still a lot of documents we haven't gotten we'd like to see," Wisniewski told CNN.

Wisniewski told CNN no evidence or documents have surfaced that link Christie to the lane closures, but he said the committee was probing whether anyone else in the governor's office might have been involved.

"Our investigation would be made immeasurably simpler if the governor's office would say, 'Please tell us what you'd like, we'll turn over all of those documents, the governmental emails, the personal emails, the correspondence, so that you can look at them and determine for yourself,'" Wisniewski told CNN.

LEFT TO PROSECUTORS

A representative of the governor did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Wisniewski on Friday said the documents released that day raised more questions than they answered about whether Christie knew about the traffic tie-up, and in particular he pointed to a reference to a potential meeting between Port Authority Chairman David Samson and Christie one week before the jam.

The documents show chaos and anger but fail to clear up whether the epic tie-up was the result of what Christie said may have been a Port Authority traffic study.

The hastily called closure of three local access lanes leading to the bridge slowed school buses and emergency workers, as well as commuters.

Wisniewski said he believes laws were broken but said any decision to bring criminal charges would depend on prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman, whose job Christie held before being elected governor, has opened an investigation into the decision to close the lanes to the bridge.

Documents previously released show Kelly emailed Port Authority executive David Wildstein in August to say, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein, a Christie appointee, replied: "Got it."

Kelly could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

Wildstein has admitted to ordering lane closures and resigned his post. He declined to answer questions in an appearance before the Transportation Committee on Thursday, invoking his constitutional protection not to say anything that might incriminate him.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Nick Zieminski and Steve Orlofsky)

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