Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Key Figure in Christie Scandal Held in Contempt After Taking the Fifth
Thursday, January 09, 2014 - 12:02 PM
A New Jersey Assembly commiteee has held in contempt the key figure in the scandal surrounding the politically-motivated closure of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge. The vote came after David Wildstein repeatedly asserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent over the scandal.
In hearings Thursday before the NJ Assembly's transportation committee, centered around 907 pages of emails and texts that show a detailed plot to slap the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey. David Wildstein kept mum.
The emails showed Wildstein and top Christie aides practically chortling with power, sneering at school children, and all but dancing on car hoods as traffic piled up on the first day of school—which, as it happens, was also the anniversary of 9/11. But Wildstein stayed on message.
Beginning with the question, 'where did you work,' David Wildstein responded: "I assert my right to remain silent under the New Jersey and U.S. Constitutions."
After asking about several of the more inflammatory emails by committee chair John Wisniewski—Do you see this email message to Bridget Kelly? Were you referring to a meeting with Governor Chris Christie and Port Authority chair David Samson? Who wrote 'am I wrong to be smiling?' Why did you refer to (Jersey City Mayor) Fulop? What did you mean "Who does he think he is, Captain America?"—Wildstein intoned: "same answer."
"I'm beginning to think I'm wasting my time," Wisniewski said at one point, before continuing.
The questions then came from the other members. Committee vice chair Linda Stender referred to an email between Bill Baroni, Christie's top man at the Port Authority, and Wildstein. "What does that mean, pull a FAPS?" Stender asked, regarding an exchange about throwing reporters off the scent. Eventually Wildstein's attorney, Alan Zegas stepped in, saying he'd advised his client to remain silent.
Between them, the committee members went over all the inflammatory texts, and always, the answer was the same.
Wisniewski expressed bafflement that Wildstein had provided some 907 pages of documents but wouldn't discuss them. At one point, Wisniewski read rules that said it was a misdemeanor not to testify truthfully. But Zegas wouldn't budge, saying the rule was at variance with the constitution. At that, Wisniewski called for a motion to place Wildstein in contempt, which passed.
The hearing comes on the heels of a NJ Governor Christie press conference in which he expressed contrition and outrage over emails that reveal his appointees personally participated in using the lane closures as political payback. Christie announced the resignations of two more top aides, bringing the total number of resignations to four.
Below is an excerpt of Wildstein refusing to answer questions—for the full hearing, click the link below.