One year ago, residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey woke up to a traffic nightmare that was to last for four days. School buses were hours late, emergency service vehicles were delayed, and a police investigation into a missing child was hindered by an alleged traffic study in which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey closed local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
Since then, investigations into the lane closures by the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee, which I chair, followed by a joint legislative committee, which I co-chair, have uncovered evidence to discredit the claim of a traffic study. Last November, the Executive Director of the Port Authority testified under oath that there was no traffic study. A month later, documents submitted to the committee in response to a subpoena included the now-infamous email from Governor Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff stating "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
These revelations attracted national attention at the time, but in more recent months, the national spotlight has faded as the committee has continued to pursue its quest to understand how this abuse came to happen. Its work has been slowed by the unanimous agreement among Democrat and Republican committee members to avoid interfering with the U.S. Attorney's criminal investigation. It has also been stymied by the fact that four key players in the scandal have exercised their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In the face of these obstacles Republicans and even some Democrats have suggested it's time for the committee to wrap up its investigation and turn to the task of Port Authority reform. The Governor's supporters insist that the administration's expensive internal investigation has provided a full account of what happened one year ago and that the committee knows all it needs to know.
I remain unconvinced and believe that the truth still eludes us. My conviction is based on a number of concerns. Prime among them is the ever-evolving timeline of what the Governor knew and when he knew it.
Last December 13, prior to any committee knowledge of the "time for traffic" email, Governor Christie stated in a press conference that no one on his staff had any involvement in the lane closings. At a press conference on January 9 of this year, following the release of the email, he described himself as blindsided by the document. Yet documents subsequently uncovered by the investigation detail conversations between the Governor, key advisors and one of the Governor's senior appointees at the Port Authority prior to these press conferences where the Governor is informed of his Deputy Chief of Staff's involvement.
The insistence by the Governor and his apologists that his internal investigation of the matter has provided a full accounting of the scandal also rings hollow when one considers that his investigation reached its conclusions without interviewing Bridget Kelly or any of the key players in the controversy. This marked the second time the Governor and his senior staff had passed on speaking with Kelly, the author of the email, having also refused to question her when the email was made public and she was fired.
As the committee's investigation has progressed, I have also been troubled by the collective amnesia of the Governor's senior staff when asked to recall key events in the chronology of the scandal. All too frequently, their responses to committee questioning have brought to mind the Hogan's Heroes character, Sgt. Schultz and his attempt to avoid trouble with his constant refrain of "I know nothing."
I'm also concerned about the committee's repeated discovery of documents that individuals have failed to produce in response to the committee's subpoenas. Most recently, a senior member of the Governor's staff admitted to having deleted text messages exchanged with the Governor regarding the testimony of Port Authority executives. Neither the staff member nor the Governor provided the messages to the committee in response to its subpoena.
In light of these circumstances, I find it self-serving for the Governor's allies to seek an end to this investigation. Despite claims that the committee has learned all it needs to know about the circumstances leading up to the bridge lane closures and later attempts to obfuscate what happened, there is still work to be done.
The national spotlight may have dimmed and public attention waned as riveting revelations gave way to the more mundane work of this investigation, but that is to be expected. What should not be expected, or accepted, is the abuse of power that took place here and the arrogant attempts to cover it up.
This committee's work is far from finished. It's patient persistence that uncovered the deceptions we were asked to accept at face value as true when this story first broke, and it is our only hope for uncovering the truth.