Wisniewski Statement on N.J. Legislative Select Committee on Investigation Interim Report

(TRENTON) – Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), co-chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, released the following statement Monday on the committee receiving an interim report prepared by special counsel:

“This interim report marks a key step in this investigation into this abuse of government power and threat to public safety.
“The Legislature has done all it could at this point to find answers to how this abuse happened, and stands ready to continue its work if more witnesses and information become available.
“But it should be noted that this process is a shining example of American democracy and the checks-and-balances that are its centerpiece.
“If not for this work that started in the Assembly, the public would have never become aware of this threat to its safety -and for all we know this abusive behavior could have continued.
“This process – and the facts it brought to light for the benefit of all New Jerseyans – may well serve as the greatest example of legislative oversight in New Jersey history.
“Many critical questions, however, remain unanswered. Several key witnesses have declined to cooperate in the Committee’s work or were otherwise unavailable to provide testimony and other evidence.
“The Committee is also not in a position currently to conclude what Governor Christie himself knew about the lane closures or when and how his knowledge of these events developed.
“While there is evidence that the Governor was informed of the lane closures while they were in progress, the Committee cannot evaluate the reliability of this evidence as it has yet to hear from the witness–David Wildstein–who has claimed to have contemporaneously told the Governor of the closures.
“Even, however, if Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein acted alone, they did so with perceived impunity and in an environment, both in the governor’s office and the Port Authority, in which they felt empowered to act as they did, with little regard for public safety risks or the steadily mounting public frustration.
“We also still have questions about what the Governor knew.
“During his December 13th press conference, Governor Christie affirmed that no one on his senior staff or within his re-election campaign had knowledge of the lane closures.
“Even putting aside Bill Stepien’s counsel’s claim that just the day before–during a December 12th meeting at Drumthwacket–Stepien had told the Governor that Wildstein had brought the lane closure idea to Stepien in advance and that Stepien had told Wildstein to take it to the governor’s office, directly before the press conference Kevin O’Dowd shared with the Governor Bridget Kelly’s September 12th email, indicating that Kelly had at least been aware of the lane closures while they were in effect.
“In his testimony before the Committee, O’Dowd stated that “a plain read” of the Governor’s denial that his staff was aware of the lane closures appeared “inconsistent” with Kelly’s email, which O’Dowd handed to Governor Christie prior to that press conference.
“Those aren’t the only unanswered questions.
“We know, for instance, that Regina Egea monitored the Assembly’s Dec. 9 committee proceedings and, by her own account, texted Governor Christie that the witnesses were professional in their testimony.
“She described her messages to the Governor as ‘not at all substantive,’ and did not recall receiving any response from the Governor.
“However, Egea’s cellular telephone records indicate that, in fact, it was actually Governor Christie who initiated a text conversation during Cedric Fulton’s testimony.
“Egea replied twice, and the Governor responded once during Fulton’s testimony.
“The contents of these messages are currently unknown.
“At 12:19 p.m.–around the time that Fulton’s testimony was concluding and Robert Durando’s was beginning–Egea sent two more texts to Governor Christie.
“During Durando’s testimony, Egea sent two additional texts to the Governor, who immediately replied with a text of his own.
“Again, the contents of the texts are not currently known.
“Foye testified last on December 9th, and in the course of his testimony, Egea sent three texts to the Governor.
“There is no record of any reply from Governor Christie, nor are the contents of Egea’s texts known.
“Subsequently, however, Egea deleted the texts in question and testified that it was her normal practice to delete texts when she no longer needed to refer to them.
“As these texts are responsive to the subpoenas issued, Special Counsel to the Committee asked the governor’s office to produce any copies of these texts that may exist on Governor Christie’s personal mobile device.
“In response, counsel for the governor’s office indicated it has been unable to locate any such texts on either the Governor’s or Egea’s mobile telephones.
“Given Egea’s testimony and the AT&T records, there is little doubt the texts were composed and transmitted.
“The governor’s office’s inability to provide their contents indicates that both Egea and Governor Christie deleted the messages at some unknown point.
“What is clear, though, is that the governor’s office responded very slowly and passively to mounting indications that serious harms had been inflicted on thousands of New Jersey motorists for political rather than legitimate policy reasons.
“The failure to respond more quickly and directly may have been the result of a series of mistakes involving failure to recognize warning signs and failure to anticipate the seriousness of the problem facing the Governor and his administration.
“But the sequence of events, coupled with governor’s office’s evident lack of curiosity regarding the actual origin and purpose of the lane closures, at least raises questions about whether key people in the governor’s office, as events unfolded, took increasingly implausible explanations at face value because they knew or suspected a more damaging true story and preferred that it not come to light.
“We also now know that governor’s office staff on occasion blurred the lines between their official state functions and campaign objectives.
“This blurring of the lines between state and campaign activity erodes public trust and confidence in state institutions and public officials, and efforts should be made to address these issues.
“I find the Governor’s ‘I knew nothing’ defense to be not only hard to accept but also a remarkably low standard for a chief executive’s leadership skills. Why didn’t he know what his top aides and appointees were plotting on his behalf, right outside his office? When did pleading ignorance become an acceptable alternative to taking responsibility.

“It is important to note that additional evidence that could shed light on the open questions noted above may become available to the Committee in the future, and the committee will stand ready to pick up its work should that happen.”