Morning Digest: Feb. 12, 2014

Stepien invoked 5th amendment, but Christie campaign says it will comply ith subpoenas

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager may be declining to comply with a legislative subpoena investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy, but to the extent that lawmakers want to have a look at his campaign correspondences on the matter they’ll have their chance, a campaign attorney said.

Mark Sheridan, the attorney representing Christie’s campaign, told reporters the campaign intends to comply with both legislative and federal subpoenas investigating the GWB controversy. The compliance includes handing over any subpoenaed records sought by both the legislative committee and the U.S. Attorney’s office, he said.

Both investigatory units have subpoenaed the governor’s campaign for documents, which could include correspondences from former campaign manager Bill Stepien. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Stepien invoked 5th Amendment, but Christie campaign says it will comply with subpoenas | Politicker NJ



Christie campaign permitted to use and raise funds for complying with subpoena orders

TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign will be able to use campaign dollars and raise additional funds to pay for the costs for complying with subpoena orders stemming from dueling investigations into the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy, according to the state’s election spending watchdog group.

The opinion was handed down by the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission Tuesday during a special meeting. The commission ruled the campaign could raise additional funds to comply with subpoenas issued by a state legislative hearing and also from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“I think it’s critical … that all the information regarding what occurred in September get to the authorities as quickly as possible and get to the public as quickly as possible so everyone can get the answers,” said ELEC Chairman, Ronald DeFilippis.

“Our job is to shed sunlight on this process,” he said.

Christie has more than $126,000 left over in his campaign account, however he’s less than $13,000 away from reaching the state’s spending cap. The governor – who opted for public matching funds during his re-election bid – spent nearly $12 million to clinch a re-election victory in November, leaving him only $12,905 left to spend before maxing out. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Christie campaign permitted to use and raise funds for complying with subpoena orders | Politicker NJ




New bridgegate subpoena focuses on former Port Authority official’s November testimony

A newly issued subpoena in the ongoing George Washington Bridge investigation seeks information related to a former Port Authority official’s November testimony before the committee investigating the controversy, an attorney for one of the subpoenaed groups confirmed Tuesday.

The subpoena, issued yesterday by the joint legislative committee, seeks any drafts of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni’s November testimony, any edits to it, or correspondence with Baroni prior to the appearance, attorney Mark Sheridan confirmed Tuesday. Sheridan represents Gov. Chris Christie’s reelection campaign, which has been subpoenaed by both the committee and the U.S. Attorney.

Baroni appeared before the committee on November 25, telling members during his testimony that the lane diversions ordered by the agency during the second week of September were done in order to study the effect on traffic at the bridge if two of three local lanes were diverted for highway use.

Baroni was not under oath at the time, and email traffic that surfaced after his testimony showed no evidence of a study but instead suggest the diversions were politically motivated. Democrats have said Baroni was not truthful with the committee and are seeking to determine who helped him prepare his testimony. (Isherwood/ 




Christie’s bridge scandal lawyers seek interview with former top aide, Fort Lee mayor 

TRENTON — Lawyers hired by Gov. Chris Christie’s office to investigate the George Washington Bridge scandal want to interview a former top aide to the governor and the mayor of Fort Lee as the legal maneuvering over the controversial lane closures intensifies.

Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor leading the governor’s legal team, made a request for an interview in a letter sent Saturday to an attorney for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. The firm also sent an interview request last week to lawyers representing Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff and a prominent player in the scandal.

And David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official also at the center of the controversy, was contacted by the firm, his lawyer said today.

In September, lanes leading to the bridge were closed in what Democrats contend was an act of political retaliation against the Fort Lee mayor, a Democrat, for not endorsing Republican Christie. The governor has denied any involvement and fired Kelly for her ties to the closure. (Hutchins/Star-Ledger) 



N.J. state police: Christie never flew near GWB during lane closures

Governor Christie never flew over or near the George Washington Bridge during the September lane closures, the state police said Tuesday.

“None of the three flights transporting the governor during that week flew over, or close to either the George Washington Bridge or Fort Lee, including the flight on 9/11,” state police spokesman Capt. Stephen Jones said in a statement.

Leaders of the joint investigative committee investigating the lane closings said they would seek documents related to whether Christie flew in a helicopter near the traffic jam in September, which if true, might have contradicted Christie’s claim that he was unaware of the extent of the traffic. (Phillis/The Record) 




Ex-Christie administration member lobbied for train station that would’ve boosted project cited by Hoboken mayor

Several current and former state employees have asked the attorney general’s office to A former Christie administration official lobbied NJ Transit to build a train station that would benefit a $1 billion office and residential complex being proposed for the Hoboken waterfront — the same complex the city’s mayor claimed she was pressured to fast-track or risk losing Sandy aid.

Records show that the lobbyist argued for the station within months of an agreement signed with NJ Transit to move forward on the rail project. That lobbying occurred in the spring of 2013 — the same time period that Mayor Dawn Zimmer said she was pressured by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

The lobbyist, Lori Grifa, works for Wolff & Samson, the law firm founded by former state Attorney General David Samson.

Samson is also a central figure in the crisis Governor Christie is confronting over the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge. Samson was appointed by Christie to be chairman of the Port Authority and met with Christie on the day The Record reported the now-infamous email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The lane closures and Zimmer’s claims are being probed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark. A state legislative committee is conducting its own investigation of the lane closures. Dozens of subpoenas have been issued in the probes.

The Hoboken lobbying effort echoes Zimmer’s claims that there was a full-court press in the spring and summer of 2013 to get the massive project by The Rockefeller Group approved. (Rouse and Reitmeyer/The Record) 



Speculation Swirls Around Cerf’s Successor, Impact on Policies and Pending Reforms

In the last 20 years, New Jersey has had eight state education commissioners, a rate of roughly one every two-and-a-half years.

Now, with Chris Cerf’s announcement this week that he is leaving the post – in his case, after three full years — New Jersey is about to get another commissioner who will bring his or her own brand of leadership and management style to both education policy in the state and the operation of its 800-employee state Department of Education.

But with Cerf’s departure coming midway through Gov. Chris Christie’s stint as governor, the new education commissioner may be more beholden than most to what has happened before, implementing policies that have already been decided, rather than coming up with new ones.

Such was the sense yesterday in the reaction to Cerf’s plans to take a job as a chief executive at Amplify Inc., an educational software firm led by former New York City chancellor Joel Klein.

Above all else, the next commissioner will need to be someone who will implement – and maybe adjust — what Cerf had set in course, several observers said, be it new teacher-evaluation requirements or the state’s transition to the Common Core State Standards and new online testing.

“This is going to have to be a person who needs to figure out a way to make it all work,” said Michael Vrancik, chief lobbyist for the New Jersey School Boards Association. “That’s a pretty tall order.” (Mooney/NJSpotlight)



Samson Uses Position, Proximity to Christie to Build Business

Some 12 months ago when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey voted to take over the Atlantic City airport, the move puzzled many aviation experts.

After all, the airports that the authority managed were themselves in need of investment, and AC was far beyond the 25-mile radius from the Statue of Liberty that defined the port’s scope of operations.

But according to David Samson, the Port Authority’s chairman of the board, the decision represented “great opportunities . . . on a going forward basis.”

Samson’s reference to “opportunities” was apt. As NJ Spotlight content partner WNYC report, Samson was able to transform his position, his powerful law firm, and his relationship to Gov. Chris Christie into a web of connections that spreads across the region’s transportation network. (Bernstein/NJSpotlight) 




A.B.A. Nominated New Jersey Lawyer as President

The American Bar Association, the 400,000-member group that establishes standards for law schools and formulates codes of conduct and ethics for lawyers, has nominated Paulette Brown as its president.

Ms. Brown, 62, is a partner specializing in labor and employment law and commercial litigation at Edwards Wildman Palmer in New Jersey. If her nomination is approved, she would be the first African-American woman to lead the association.

Ms. Brown has been a lawyer for 38 years and has been practicing at Edwards Wildman for eight years. Before that, she worked at the law firm Duane Morris. She practices in both federal and state courts and is a certified mediator for the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Earlier in her career, she was in-house counsel for several companies and a former municipal court judge in Plainfield, N.J. She earned her law degree at Seton Hall University School of Law and her bachelor’s degree at Howard University. (Olson/New York Times) 



From the Back Room

What went WRONG?

When North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos kicked off his campaign for mayor last year there were insiders on the terrace of the Robert Treat Hotel who called it one of the most impressive launches in recent memory. (PolitickerNJ)

Recent Posts from The Back Room | Politicker NJ




The Shavar Jeffries Story

A campaign video on YouTube tells the story of Newark Mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries of the South Ward.

You can watch the video here. (PolitickerNJ)

The Shavar Jeffries Story | Politicker NJ




Christie’s helicopter wasn’t over GWB in Sept, State Police say

Gov. Chris Christie’s helicopter did not fly over or near the George Washington Bridge during the time of the controversial lane closures, the New Jersey State Police said Tuesday.

The governor, who occasionally travels in the state police’s helicopter, took three flights during the week of Sept. 8. However, none of the flights included travel in or around Fort Lee, according to the State Police.

“None of the three flights transporting the governor during that week flew over, or close to GWB or Fort Lee including the flight on 9/11,” the State Police said in a statement. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)

Christie’s helicopter wasn’t over GWB in Sept, State Police say | Politicker NJ





Chris Christie needs to step down as RGA chief

As Gov. Chris Christie travels the country as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, GOP candidates in Florida, Texas and Illinois have run from him as though he were radioactive. Now some are saying he should step down from the post, for the good of the party.

Even Joe Scarborough, the governor’s cheerleader-in-chief as host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” joined the chorus this week. “He needs to sit down and do some serious soul-searching to see whether he wants to defend charges against him or continue this,” he said. “I don’t think he can do both.”

We agree he should step down, but for a different reason: He has a job to do in Trenton that he is neglecting.

With all the attention on the scandals, few have noticed that New Jersey faces a fiscal crisis. Our credit rating is dropping, our structural deficit is rated as the worst in the nation by researchers at George Mason University, and now the chairman of the state Senate Budget Committee is warning of giant revenue shortfalls. And with funds devoted to transit and open-space purchases both bankrupt, Christie has proposed no fix.

“The question is how focused they are going to be on solving this,” says the chairman, Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen).

Keep in mind that the bulk of Christie’s senior staff is ensnared in the Bridge­gate scandals as well. So who is minding the store?

Christie is not big on soul-searching, so “Morning Joe” will probably have to wait. And despite his wounds, Christie is still raising money at a brisk clip, so that takes off some pressure.

But it is undeniable that the RGA job is a major distraction, especially when heaped on top of the scandals. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 


Morning Digest: Feb. 12, 2014