Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Democrats to Consolidate Gwb Probes

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Democrats to Consolidate Gwb Probes

Article excerpt

Senate and Assembly Democrats set aside a brewing power struggle and agreed Tuesday to create a joint committee to investigate the lane closures at the foot of the George Washington Bridge in September.

Lawmakers in the two chambers were criticized last week for failing to work together when they formed two investigative panels, each with subpoena power and each to hire its own special counsel.

The new joint committee will retain the special counsel hired by the Assembly committee, Reid Schar, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The Senate committee had not named a special counsel.

Democratic leaders hailed the new committee as "efficient" and "unified." But Republican leaders, who have argued the bridge investigation is becoming increasingly partisan, said they are concerned about the makeup of the panel.

"I'm glad that the majority party realized there needs to be a joint committee. But to be truly bipartisan, it should have a more equitable member mix," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R- Union.

Each chamber must revote to give the new committee subpoena power. Resolutions creating the two separate committees last week passed unanimously. It's unclear whether the new panel will receive the same support.

In recent days, as Governor Christie intensified his defense against the lane closure allegations, several legislative Republicans called on Assemblyman John Wisniewski to step down from leading the Assembly's investigation, questioning his impartiality.

Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, will be co-chairman of the new panel, along with state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck.

The members of the joint committee have not yet been announced. There will be 12 members -- likely eight from the Assembly and four from the Senate, Wisniewski says. That means at least some of the 12 members on the current Assembly committee and seven on the Senate panel will be cut.

The new committee will focus on the bridge scandal, said Wisniewski, who added that "it's premature" to say whether new allegations against the Christie administration by the mayor of Hoboken would be part of the inquiry. …

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