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Bridgegate Committee Can't Call Any More Major Witnesses

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The U.S. Attorney's Office has asked the New Jersey legislative committee investigating Bridgegate to refrain from calling a range of potential witnesses out of concern that their testimonies could interfere with an ongoing federal criminal investigation, according to a source close to the matter.

Those on the do not call to testify list include Gov. Chris Christie's chief political adviser, Michael DuHaime, who had several conversations with Christie and Port Authority figures as the controversy grew late last year, and Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, where the lane closures occurred. In fact, the list of those whom the committee has been asked not to subpoena is so long that "no one of note" can currently be called to testify, the source said.

The source says that the committee could still call tangential players who may be able to fill in details about what happened before and after lanes to the George Washington Bridge mysteriously closed in September. The situation is fluid, the source said, so it is also possible that the U.S. Attorney's Office lifts its ban.

The committee was said to have a list of 13 witnesses it wanted to call this summer, but from its inception the committee's co-chairpeople, Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said they were in communication with federal investigators and would not do anything to interfere with their probe.

And so the committee may get its last crack at a Christie figure on Thursday, when Regina Egea, who is in charge of overseeing the Port Authority and other agencies for the governor's office, testifies in Trenton. Egea was slated to become Christie’s chief of staff before Bridgegate broke open and put that promotion on hold.

Democrats believe subpoenaed documents indicate Egea may have been part of a cover-up between the moment the lanes were closed in September and the "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" smoking gun email was released in January.

She had phone contact with David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority, during the week of the closures. The following month, when Weinberg went to a Port Authority meeting to ask about the situation, Egea emailed her bosses in the governor’s office: “Questions ensued on Fort Lee, but holding to script of ‘all under review.’” And finally, in November, Egea essentially rewrote the prepared legislative testimony of Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, who argued that the lanes were closed for a study to improve traffic on the main approaches to the bridge. Baroni's testimony is now believed to be false, and perhaps intentionally so.

An internal review commissioned by the governor's office found that Egea didn't know about the bridge scheme and wasn't complicit in anything inappropriate afterward.

After the legislative committee finishes interviewing whomever it can, it is expected to produce a report and perhaps start introducing legislation to reform the Port Authority. New York legislators are already working to reform the Port Authority on their side of the river.

As for reform inside the governor's office, WNYC has learned that Christie has quietly hired a new chief ethics officer. Heather V. Taylor, an attorney, has worked in the corruption bureau of the Attorney General's Office since January 2013. She started this week and will earn $115,000 annually. She will work with a new ombudsman, Patrick Hobbs, who doubles as the dean of Seton Hall Law School. Both hirings stem from reforms recommended in a Bridgegate report produced by Christie's attorneys.

Hobbs, Taylor and Christie are said to have met for an hour in the governor's office on Monday.

And because this is New Jersey, there's an interconnected relationship here. It turns out that Taylor's husband is the vice dean at Seton Hall Law School, Erik Lillquist. So both she and her husband report to the same person in their respective jobs.

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