Twenty subpoenas for documents are being issued to people and organizations in the investigation into a traffic jam scandal that involves New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s associates.
The subpoenas went out Thursday, soon after the state Assembly authorized a special committee to extend its inquiry. Assemblyman John Wisinewski, who is leading the investigation, would not name any subpoena recipients until the documents are served, presumably by Friday.
However, he has indicated that people whose names appeared in previously obtained emails and text messages are likely to receive subpoenas.
They include fired Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien.
Earlier Thursday, Christie announced the hiring of a legal team to help his administration deal with the multiple investigations before heading to the Jersey Shore, his first trip since the scandal broke, to pledge he won’t be distracted from the job of rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy.
The governor’s legal team, to be led by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro, will “review best practices for office operations and information flow, and assist with document retention and production,” the administration said in a brief statement.
Two state legislative committees, the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Jersey, and the chairman of a U.S. Senate committee are conducting inquiries into what happened in September when lanes to the George Washington Bridge were shut down, causing massive gridlock in Fort Lee.
Christie did not address the scandal directly Thursday when he made his first public appearance outside the State House in the eight days since the lane scandal broke wide open.
He went to friendly territory — heavily Republican Ocean County — for an event initially scheduled for Jan. 8 that was postponed after the revelation of emails that appear to show one of his top aides ordering the lane closures for political retribution.
The setting was the type of place that elevated Christie’s national profile in the weeks following Sandy — a shore fire station much like the ones where he reassured worried residents in the days after the storm. The governor’s work leading New Jersey through the recovery helped cement his national reputation as a no-nonsense, hard-driving governor willing to work closely with Democrats to get things done.
Like those appearances 14 months ago, this one was also carried live as he hugged residents and reassured them that they will get the help they need. Amy Peters, a Manahawkin woman, was tearful as she thanked Christie for helping her get back in a home that had been devastated by the storm.
Christie seemed to refer to the bridge scandal when he joked about how many more video cameras — more than 20 — were trained on him than he would expect for this kind of event. He got cheers when he suggested reporters at least dine in local restaurants to help the area.
“I am focused as completely this morning as I was when I woke up on the morning of Oct. 30, 2012, and nothing will distract me from getting the job done,” he said. “Nothing.”
People who attended Christie’s speech said their support for him hadn’t changed because of the bridge controversy.
“You do pay attention,” said Rob Hunsberger, a homebuilder who is rebuilding houses wrecked by the storm. “But there are bigger problems that people are having.”
Christie is also resuming his public duties as chairman of the Republican Governors Association with a scheduled trip Friday to Florida. He’s headlining private fundraisers for Gov. Rick Scott, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Republican governors in the country facing re-election this fall.
As Christie works to assure top Republican donors that he has taken the appropriate steps to address the New Jersey controversy, he’ll face dissent.
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, plans to hold at least two Christie-focused news conferences in cities where Christie is set to appear.
In other developments Thursday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) reported that the Port Authority had responded to a series of questions he posed about the closings. The answers, which he made public, provided “zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study,” he said.
Also, a federal official said that an audit of New Jersey’s $25 million tourism marketing campaign after Superstorm Sandy is not an investigation of Christie’s awarding of the contract as Democrats have alleged.
The Christie administration awarded a firm that bid $2 million more than the lowest bid for the “Stronger than the Storm” campaign, which the winning bidder starred Christie and his family. The losing proposal wouldn’t have featured them.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general says the audit’s examining whether the campaign followed federal requirements, not the way the contract was awarded.