The New Jersey state committee investigating the George Washington Bridge traffic jam wants to see Gov. Chris Christie's helicopter flight records, trying to determine if one flight took him over the scene of the epic mess created by Christie's aides.
Continuing an aggressive hunt for records, the joint investigative committee on Monday authorized 18 new subpoenas for information, including one to the New Jersey State Police aviation unit, which operates the helicopters, according to a source familiar with the committee. A spokesman for Christie confirmed one flight in that vicinity during the four-day traffic jam: a trip from Sept. 11 ceremony at the World Trade Center site back to Trenton, the New Jersey capital.
During that ceremony in Manhattan, Christie was photographed laughing with David Wildstein, who ordered the traffic diversion at the local-access toll lanes, resulting in a four-day tie-up in Fort Lee. Wildstein, one of Christie's political hires at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, has been seeking immunity to tell his version of events; recently, his lawyer wrote a letter saying that "evidence exists" to show that Christie wasn't being truthful when he said he never learned about the traffic snarls until they were over. The letter didn't say what that evidence was.
Wildstein wasn't on the helicopter, said Christie spokesman Colin Reed.
"David Wildstein did not ride with him that day, or any day, as he has never flown in the helicopter with the governor," Reed said in an emailed statement.
Christie traveled by helicopter each day during the bridge shutdown, according to records released by the governor's office, but only once in the vicinity of New York and Fort Lee, the town on the New Jersey side of the bridge. His flights have been a source of controversy in the past: In 2011, Christie took heat for taking the chopper to catch his son's baseball game.
Besides the aviation unit, other subpoenas are going out to Christie's office and to officials at the Port Authority and the administration. Some recipients, such as Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director at the Port Authority who vigorously defended the closures as part of a legitimate traffic study, were on the original subpoena list last month. The committee also is seeking documents from William "Pat" Schuber, one of Christie's appointees on the Port Authority, and the executive assistants for Baroni and for Bridget Anne Kelly, the Christie staffer who sent Wildstein an email calling for "some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Lawyers for Kelly and Bill Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager, contested the earlier subpoenas but the committee today, after more than two hours in closed session, voted to reject their legal arguments and pressed the demands for emails and other records related to the bridge closures.
"Each day there are more and more documents coming in," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski, cochairman of the committee. He said the Democratic-led legislative investigation won't interfere with an ongoing criminal probe by federal prosecutors.
"Our ultimate goal is to fix a clearly broken organization, the Port Authority," he said. "The U.S. Attorney gets involved for entirely different reasons."