Christie says Lautenberg caught with “hands in the cookie jar”

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) “obviously didn’t have his house in order” when he called the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to Washington this week.

The governor spoke Thursday on the heels of a verbal spat between the Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, and the federal lawmaker.  Lautenberg was chairing a hearing on toll fairness and had called Baroni to talk about the recent Port Authority of New York and New Jersey toll hike.

“He came up against someone who knew the facts better than he did,” said Christie, later referring to Lautenberg getting called out by Baroni for taking advantage of a program that allowed the senator to go without paying tolls at Hudson River crossings for 24 years.

Baroni also pointed out the senator made at least 284 free toll crossings in the final two years he had the free pass.

“A guy who brags about how rich he is couldn’t go into his pocket to pay for tolls?” Christie said during a news conference.

“I am absolutely thrilled that Bill Baroni went down there and defended himself,” he said. “Frank got caught yesterday with his hands in the cookie jar.”

The governor said the Washington hearing “raised a lot of questions” and should raise questions about why Lautenberg spent so much time in New York.

“He’s supposed to be the senator from New Jersey. What’s he doing going over … to New York three or four times a week?” Christie asked. “Was he ever in Washington? … Did he ever spend any time in New Jersey?”

Lautenberg fired back Thursday afternoon, accusing the governor and his administration of dodging legitimate questions about the toll increase.

“There he goes again – the name-calling governor,” Lautenberg said in a statement issued late Thursday.  “Just like the Rutgers-Rowan controversy, the Governor is so afraid of answering legitimate questions that he resorts to distractions and juvenile name-calling.  These desperate tactics by the Governor and the Port Authority clearly show that they are working to cover up something about the toll increases.   Once again, the Governor failed to stand up for New Jersey residents and is trying to deflect attention from his unpopular actions.  As a war veteran, I’ve gone up against much larger foes than Chris Christie, so I won’t be deterred from fighting on behalf of everyday people in New Jersey.”

Christie said he was not able to shed any light on the reason Friday’s joint legislative hearing on the Port Authority was postponed indefinitely Wednesday afternoon.

The hearing, which was to take place in Staten Island, was pushed back after the chairman of the New York state Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Merrick, told New Jersey lawmakers he would not be able to attend.

“As far as the hearing being postponed, I read the same thing that you did,” Christie told reporters, referring to the scheduling problem. Christie says Lautenberg caught with “hands in the cookie jar”