By Keith Laing
An ex-New Jersey state transportation official who has been linked to an effort by Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) administration to close lanes on the most heavily traveled bridge in the U.S. has been held in contempt by a state legislative committee for refusing to answer questions about the scandal.
The New Jersey General Assembly’s Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee voted unanimously to hold former New York and New Jersey Port Authority member David Wildstein in contempt for pleading the Fifth Amendment during a high-profile hearing on Thursday.
Wildstein said repeatedly when he was asked questions by lawmakers that he was pleading the Fifth “on the advice of counsel.”
Wildstein had previously sought to convince a state judge to invalidate a subpoena from the New Jersey legislative committee, but the request was denied on Thursday.
The legal mechanizations capped a day that saw Christie issue a mea culpa for previously denying his administration’s involved in the September 2013 closing of the George Washington Bridge.
Christie held a nearly two-hour-long press conference that contained numerous apologies, and he announced the firing of two officials who were revealed to have discussed closing the bridge lanes allegedly in retribution for the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., declining to endorse the governor’s bid for reelection last year.
Wildstein, who was appointed to the Port Authority with Christie’s blessing, resigned from the transportation panel in December when allegations of the improper closing of the bridge lanes first began gaining traction.
Christie argued at the time that the lanes were closed because of a traffic study that was the result of the Port Authority acting on its own.
However, the Bergen Record uncovered emails between Wildstein and Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, in which the Christie staffer wrote to the Port Authority official “it’s time for Fort Lee to have some traffic problems.”
Christie fired Kelly his office on Thursday and said he was withdrawing the name of his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to be the head of the New Jersey Republican Party. He also sought to distance himself from Wildstein, who attended the same high school as the governor.
“Let me just clear something up, OK, about my childhood friend David Wildstein,” Christie said during his news conference. “It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school.”
Christie said Wildstein was just one of many classmates he had during his high school tenure.
“I mean I had a high school in Livingston, a three-year high school that had 1,800 students in the late '70s, early 1980,” he said. “I knew who David Wildstein was. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer and so was I. Really after that time I completely lost touch with David. We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time.”