Morning Digest: Feb. 4, 2014

U.S. Attorney subpoenas Christie’s office, gov confirms 

Gov. Chris Christie has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, according to the governor.

Christie confirmed on 101.5 FM that federal officials have subpoenaed his office as part of the ongoing inquiry into the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy.

“We are complying with that in the same way we are complying with the legislative subpoenas,” Christie said. “We will comply and cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s inquiry into this.”

Christie indicated his office wasn’t caught off guard by the subpoenas.  

“We had already indicated that we were going to comply voluntarily,” he said. “And they sent a subpoena and that’s fine.”

The governor didn’t indicate when the subpoenas are due.

Christie was speaking on the monthly call-in program Ask the Governor. (Arco/PolitickerNJ)




Chris Christie answers questions about bridge scandal

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Monday insisted he never knew that his aides had intentionally fouled up traffic approaches to the George Washington Bridge until after the lanes had been reopened — though he admitted he might have heard about traffic snarls while they were happening and not paid any attention.

Answering questions during his monthly radio call-in show from Trenton, Christie also said that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed records from his office, as part of investigations into possible abuses of power by his administration. He said his staff was already turning over records to prosecutors and to a legislative investigative committee.

Speaking about the bridge scandal for the first time since former aide David Wildstein suggested that the governor was not telling the truth when he denied any knowledge of the September closures, Christie gave a more detailed and nuanced version about just what he knew about the mess, and when. 

He said he first knew something was happening when he read an Oct. 1 Wall Street Journal report on an angry email about the lane closures from the Port Authority executive director. “That was the first time it came to my consciousness that this was an issue,” he said, adding that when he asked his staff to find out what was going on, they reported that it was a traffic study.

In what appeared to be a slight shift in his explanation, Christie acknowledged that he might have heard traffic reports about the tie-ups while they were happening, weeks before publication of the story he cited. But those would not have registered, he said. (Tafani/Los Angeles Times),0,3762877.story#ixzz2sLmVQdsB




Gov. Chris Christie: ‘Unequivocally’ had no knowledge of Fort Lee lane closures in New Jersey 

As documents subpoenaed by investigating New Jersey lawmakers began pouring in on Monday, Governor Chris Christie said he “unequivocally” had no knowledge of a plan by some of his top aides to snarl traffic near the busy George Washington Bridge.

During a mostly friendly hour-long “Ask the Governor” session on local radio, Christie, a likely Republican candidate for the White House in 2016, said he was awaiting “all the facts,” but would not allow the scandal known as “Bridgegate” to distract him from running that state.

“The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close those lanes?” Christie said. “And the answer is still the same. Unequivocally no.”

“I’ll be damned if I let anything get in the way of me doing my job,” he said.

Federal prosecutors and the Democrat-controlled state legislature have opened probes into the incident last September, in which top aides to Christie ordered the closure of access lanes to the busy George Washington Bridge, which spans New Jersey and Manhattan. (Chicago Tribune Wire),0,7523998.story 



Firm of Chris Christie adviser hires lawyer 

The consulting firm where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie adviser Mike DuHaime works has hired an attorney to help sort through any potential issues related to the mushrooming inquiries surrrounding the bridge traffic scandal, officials confirmed to POLITICO. 

DuHaime’s firm, Mercury Public Affairs, has secured a lawyer who works for Rudy Giuliani’s lawfirm, officials said.

The move was cautionary, they said, and not because of any specific requests. But the widening inquiries and subpeonas have now stretched to Christie’s reelection campaign for governor last fall. DuHaime was Christie’s top strategist on his reelection effort. (Haberman/Politico)




Christie to field questions for first time in weeks

TRENTON  — Gov. Chris Christie on Monday prepared to take questions for the first time in more than three weeks as his campaign sought to exceed New Jersey’s election spending cap to pay for lawyers dealing with subpoenas stemming from a political payback scandal.

Christie gave a nearly two-hour news conference Jan. 9, the day after emails were made public showing that at least one of his top aides had a role in a traffic-blocking scheme near the George Washington Bridge. Since then, he has made public appearances but not opened himself to questions, except to schoolchildren in Camden.

On Monday night, he was scheduled to appear on his “Ask the Governor” radio show on Townsquare Media, although it was not clear how much time would be given to questions on the scandal.

In addition, in a request to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Christie’s campaign organization asked for permission to raise more money and to spend it on lawyers handling subpoenas issued by both legislative investigators and the U.S. attorney’s office.

The campaign has already spent all but $13,000 of the more than the $12.2 million limit for Christie’s re-election. Without more money, the campaign said it would not be able to answer the subpoenas. (Delli Santi and Mulvihill/The Record) 




Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo hobnob at Super Bowl   

Chris Christie got a visit from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his Super Bowl box Sunday night, and the New Jersey governor spent several minutes introducing people to his cross-river colleague, sources told POLITICO.

Cuomo and his girlfriend Sandra Lee joined Christie along with a number of GOP mega donors, including hedge fund executive Paul Singer (who worked with Cuomo on passing a gay marriage bill in New York in 2011), Texas real estate developer Harlan Crow and private equity investor Josh Harris, sources said. (Haberman and Vogel/Politico)



Governor Backs Off Pensions Threat, Dismisses Media Focus On Bridgegate

But Christie’s disclosure that he asked top aides to look into Foye’s allegations in October raises important new questions. 

With subpoenaed documents trickling in to investigators and a second top aide taking the Fifth Amendment in the Bridgegate probe, Gov. Chris Christie last night broke a 25-day silence with new disclosures on the scandal that has crippled his administration and tried to shift attention to policy with the announcement that he would indeed make the $2.4 billion pension payment due this year.

Declaring that he would not allow the ongoing investigations “to dominate my time like it does people in the media and some partisans,” Christie opened his new public relations offensive on a friendly radio station with the assertion that Democratic legislative leaders and reporters were “getting in front of their skis” with their assumption that he was not planning to include the full pension payment required by the law he signed in 2011 in the Fiscal Year 2015 budget he is scheduled to unveil on February 25.

“That’s not what I said,” Christie insisted on New Jersey 101.5-FM’s monthly “Ask the Governor” program. “What I said was we’re not going to be able to fund the other programs we all want if we don’t address the exploding costs of pension payments and debt service.” He added, “If I wanted to say ‘I’m not going to make the pension payment,’ I would have said ‘I’m not going to make the pension payment.’”

Christie’s pension comments in his January 14 State of the State speech, followed by press spokesman Colin Reed’s pointed refusal to confirm whether Christie intended to make the full $2.4 billion pension payment, prompted Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), chief sponsor of the controversial pension bill, to threaten last week to shut down the state government July 1 if Christie reneged. It was a point that Sweeney undoubtedly brought up when he and new Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) met with Christie yesterday, although Christie refused to discuss their conversation. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 




Sandy Releif Contractors Indirectly Helped Bankroll Christie Campaign

Ten firms hired by New Jersey donated over $300,000 to Republican Governors Association. 

t’s the new way of making political donations, by way of “interest groups” that are allowed to take unlimited contributions and make unlimited donations to political campaigns.

IRS records show that at least 10 companies hired by New Jersey for Sandy relief efforts donated more than $300,000 last year to the Republican Governors Association, which is chaired by Gov. Chris Christie and which gave $1.7 million to his successful reelection bid in 2013.

Reporter Matt Katz of WNYC, a partner of NJ Spotlight, takes a closer look at the donors and the donations – and the recipient. (Katz/NJSpotlight) 



Christie administration assails Times for “sloppy” reporting

The Christie administration lashed out  at the New York Times for a second time today over its report on a letter from an attorney for a former Port Authority official claiming that evidence exists that the governor knew about politically motivated lane diversions at the George Washington Bridge as they were happening.

The report hit Friday afternoon and initially sent shockwaves through the political community as it directly contradicts the governor’s own statements about when he became aware of the lane closures. 

In an email circulated among supporters, the administration quotes from various news sources calling the Times report on the letter from the attorney for former Director of Interstate Capital Projects David Wildstein “sloppy” and “misleading.”

“The New York Times’ Reporting Of Wildstein’s Allegations Face Broad Criticism,” reads the headline of the email.

It quotes from the Times’ own public editor’s report of the story, which was changed to reflect that Wildstein said the evidence existed, not that he had it as was originally reported.  The story had been posted on the paper’s website for about 20 minutes when the change was made and an editor for the Times said the alteration was done for clarification and was not material enough to warrant a written correction. (Isherwood/ 




Bridge Scandal: Bridget Kelly refuses to turn over documents subpoenaed by legislative committee

Bridget Anne Kelly, considered a crucial figure in unraveling the George Washington Bridge lane closures, is refusing to produce documents and information requested under subpoena by the state legislative committee investigating the controversy, The Star-Ledger has learned.

In a letter issued today by the lawyer for Kelly, who last month was fired as Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff after emails emerged showing she had apparently orchestrated the lane closures, Kelly cited both her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

Michael Critchley, Kelly’s lawyer — widely known as an aggressive and highly skilled trial lawyer – wrote in the letter that, “Here, the information demanded from Ms. Kelly … directly overlaps with a parallel federal grand jury investigation being conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

“As such … Ms. Kelly asserts her rights under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and New Jersey law and will not produce the information demanded by the Committee.” (Grant/Star-Ledger) 




Cory Booker dedicates first Senate floor speech to unemployment insurance

WASHINGTON — For many, it was a crucial lifeline.

But long-term unemployment benefits ended for 1.6 million Americans last month after the U.S. Senate failed to vote on an extension.

Tonight, in his first floor speech, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) urged his colleagues on Capitol Hill to pass an extension of unemployment insurance or risk forcing millions of Americans out of their homes, onto the public dole or into catastrophic debt.

“All of us, despite our political differences, share a common heritage and share a common desire to solve problems,” Booker said. “I have not surrendered to cynicism.”

At first, Booker was interrupted when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chided other senators for talking over the freshman Democrat.

The roughly 30-minute address focused on America’s history of providing opportunity for upward mobility. Without the unemployment extension, Booker said, that mobility will be blocked. (Giambusso/Star-Ledger) 




NJ Colleges and Universities Want to Know When State Will Deliver Promised Funds

Some $100 million in bonds have been sold — out of $750 million — but schools haven’t seen a penny. 

Although New Jersey’s colleges and universities are enjoying a succession of groundbreakings on major new facilities this fall and winter, they’re still waiting for the state money that’s going to pay for the bulk of the work.

Touting that “education is the key to advancement,” since September Gov. Chris Christie has publicly celebrated at least two higher-education construction sites made possible by a $750 million bond approved by the electorate in the summer of 2012. But so far, the institutions haven’t received one cent of promised funding from this bond or four others totaling $1.3 billion that were renewed or reauthorized last year.

After a one-month application window closed last March, Christie’s office informed more than two dozen public and private schools that they’d been selected to share in the “Building Our Future Bond Act” (the “GO Bond Act”), the first statewide, voter-approved bond program for higher education in 25 years. A total of $100 million worth of bonds were sold last year but not distributed, and some of the approximately 70 preliminarily approved projects face potential delays if the money doesn’t come soon. (Nurin/NJSpotlight) 




Immigrant safety net lauded

New Jersey is home to a large and growing diverse population of immigrants, and the community-based organizations in the state that offer English classes, legal help and advocacy continue to be important in helping newcomers integrate, a study released Monday found.

The 72-page report, titled “Meet the Neighbors: Organizational and Spatial Dynamics of Immigrant New Jersey,” was issued by the Program on Immigration and Democracy at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. It states that the Garden State has adopted few policies to help immigrants integrate, and community-based organizations are doing much of the heavy lifting with fewer federal funds and staff.

“The failure to enact immigration reform has put tremendous pressure on the local level,” said Anastasia Mann, who teaches a course on immigration policy at Rutgers and is one of the authors of the report. “I’m talking about how people are getting their needs met, and in almost in any community you go to where there is a significant immigrant population, you will find a typically quite scrappy but occasionally you know very institutionalized organization that is making some really important connections for people to local government, to schools, to the hospital, and there is a wide variation in terms of how localities are integrating immigrants.”

The study outlines the demographic changes in New Jersey and some of the circumstances that have resulted with that shift. It looked at immigrants across the state, where they came from, live and work, and how they conform and depart from historical immigration patterns. Researchers also surveyed more than 200 community-based organizations that work with immigrants for the study. (Alvarado/The Record) 




CNN poll: Christie trails Clinton by 16 percentage in possible 2016 matchup

Gov. Chris Christie is trailing Hillary Clinton by 16 percentage points in a possible presidential matchup, according to a new poll.

The governor trails the former Democratic secretary of state 55 percent to 39 percent, according to the new CNN/ORC International survey that put Christie at a 48 percent to 46 percent edge over Clinton in December.

“Christie has also lost ground among independents, who were the key to his strong showing late last year,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said, according to the news network.

“Christie got 59 percent support among Independents in December,” Holland said. “Now that has dropped to 39 percent.” (Arco/PolitickerNJ)




From the Back Room


Christie’s former deputy chief of staff invokes Fifth Amendment

Gov. Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, a key figure in the George Washington Bridge lane closure controversy, has declined to comply with a legislative subpoena, according to published reports.

Bridget Kelly, who records indicate sent an email to a former Port Authority official that read “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” invoked the Fifth Amendment that protects against self-incrimination, according to a report in The Bergen Record.

Kelly was subpoenaed by the state’s legislative joint committee investigating the so-called Bridgegate scandal. (PolitickerNJ)



Pataki: Christie’s presidential run ‘damaged severely’ by Bridgegate scandal

If the Assembly draws up articles of impeachment against Gov. Chris Christie, look for the emergence of another longtime player at the epicenter of the drama.

Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27), West Orange, just took over the chairmanship of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Until this year, McKeon had been consigned to the wilderness of Trenton following his participation in a coup against Democratic Party leadership.

Deposed from his beloved chairmanship of the Assembly Environmental Committee, McKeon clawed his way back to power with the ascent to the speakership of Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32).

Prieto did not want to get rid of Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-29), Newark, who has occupied the throne of the environmental committee since McKeon’s meltdown.

So he gave the assemblyman the judiciary chairmanship, where now McKeon, a longtime district-mate of ageless state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27), could have a chance to make a name for himself… (PolitickerNJ)



Super Bowl 2014: This should be the end of the line for Chris Christie’s transit chief

On Dec. 9, a collection of officials from the NFL and various public agencies held a press conference at Secaucus Junction. The subject was transportation to the 2014 Super Bowl at the Meadowlands. First up was Jon Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants.

“We are excited about all the opportunities as they relate to the first public transportation Super Bowl,” Tisch said. “If there is any region that knows how to deal with public transportation, it is the New York-New Jersey region.”

Next up was James Weinstein. He’s the executive director of New Jersey Transit who managed to survive getting 400 rail cars flooded in Hurricane Sandy the prior year.

“I want you to know we’re ready at NJ Transit. We are ready,” Weinstein said, as if reassuring us he would not screw up again. “We’re ready because of extensive planning and preparation and are continuing through game day.”

Weinstein went on to promise “a world-class travel experience.” He didn’t say which world, but it turned out to be the Third World. (Mulshine/Star-Ledger)  

Morning Digest: Feb. 4, 2014