The George Washington Bridge (Rudy Balasko / iStockphoto.com)
The committee of the New Jersey Legislature investigating last fall’s abrupt lane closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge has subpoenaed Gov. Chris Christie’s choice to be his next chief of staff, Regina Egea, to testify before the committee July 17.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, the co-chair of the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, said Egea was the recipient of an email forwarded by Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, from Executive Director Patrick Foye, who ordered the lanes reopened and suggested the closures may have violated state and federal laws.
Baroni, who was forced to resign after the Sept. 9-13 lane closures, told lawmakers that the closures were part of a traffic study. Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, claim that members of Christie’s inner circle ordered the closures after Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich declined to join other Democratic mayors in endorsing Christie for reelection.
If she testifies, Egea will become the fifth current or former member of the administration to testify before the committee. Her attorney, Michael Martinez, of the New York office of Mayer Brown, was away from his office Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
It is believed that Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, the Port Authority’s former director of interstate capital projects, orchestrated the lane closures to retaliate against Sokolich. Kelly has invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and has refused to cooperate with the committee in its investigation. Wildstein provided documents, but refused to answer questions.
Egea was interviewed by lawyers from the New York office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the firm retained by Christie to conduct an internal review of the affair, three times in January and February.
She told the Gibson Dunn attorneys that she discussed Foye’s email with Baroni and asked him why Foye would send such an email. She said Baroni replied that Foye was “interfering and meddling” and did not provide any further explanation, according to the firm’s interview memo with her.
Egea assisted Baroni in preparing to testify before Wisniewski’s Assembly Transportation Committee, which launched the investigation. It was before that committee that Baroni said the closures were part of a traffic study, according to the memo.
Egea also told the lawyers that she was “blindsided” when she read news stories in January about an Aug. 13, 2013, email from Kelly to Wildstein saying it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The Gibson Dunn report cleared Christie of any wrongdoing and pins most of the blame on Kelly and Wildstein. Democrats on the committee have said the conclusions reached by the law firm were easily predicted since Christie was the client.
The committee is continuing to hold hearings while the closures are also being investigated by a federal grand jury. Foye had been called to testify, but the committee withdrew its subpoena at the request of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
Christie has said Egea will replace Kevin O’Dowd as chief of staff. Christie has said he intends to nominate O’Dowd to become attorney general.
Other administration officials who have testified include O’Dowd; Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak; Christina Renna, the former head of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; and Matthew Mowers, a former OGA staffer who attempted to obtain Sokolich’s endorsement. All have said they knew nothing in advance about the lane closures.
Port Authority Commissioner William “Pat” Schuber, the former Republican Bergen County executive, said he purposefully stayed away from investigating the lane closures in order to avoid political infighting.
Wisniewski said the committee is considering whether to subpoena 11 other current and former Christie staffers.
The list, first obtained by The Record of Hackensack, includes Christie’s chief counsel, Christopher Porrino; the deputy chief counsel, Paul Matey; former chief counsel Charles McKenna, now the head of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority; Michael DuHaime, Christie’s top strategist; Deborah Gramiccioni, the Port Authority’s deputy executive director; and the former first assistant attorney general and failed Supreme Court nominee, Phillip Kwon, now the Port Authority’s deputy chief counsel.
Also on the list are Sokolich; Paul Nunziato, the president of the Port Authority police union; Nicole Crifo, Gramiccioni’s chief of staff; Philippe Danielides, an adviser to former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, of West Orange’s Wolff & Samson; and Evan Ridley, an aide to Christie.
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