Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ex-Aides, Panel Spar over Immunity in Gwb Scandal

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ex-Aides, Panel Spar over Immunity in Gwb Scandal

Article excerpt

Two former Christie advisers argued Friday in court papers that the legislative panel investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures has the power to give them immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for their cooperation.

A committee of lawmakers with subpoena power has asked a judge to force former campaign manager Bill Stepien and ex-deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly to turn over any documents they have that are related to the lane closures.

But both Stepien and Kelly have fought the subpoenas on multiple fronts, most notably because they say providing records would violate their Fifth Amendment protection against self- incrimination. They have also suggested that the committee grant them immunity in exchange for their cooperation, but lawyers for the committee of state lawmakers have said it's not clear that they have that power under state law.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey is investigating the lane closures.

Both sides are also clashing over whether the committee has enough specific information implicating Stepien and Kelly to override their Fifth Amendment objections.

Stepien's attorney, Kevin Marino, called the 12 email and text messages the committee has produced linking him to the lane closures and the aftermath "unremarkable." Most of the messages made public show that Stepien was kept informed of press coverage after the lanes were reopened, Marino wrote. And he dismissed the single email sent to Stepien by Port Authority executives while the lanes were still closed.

Two Christie allies at the Port Authority forwarded to Stepien an email they had received from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich minutes after they received it on the fourth day of the closures. In the letter, Sokolich pleaded for the lanes to be reopened and speculated that the closures were "punitive." Marino said sending the e-mail to Stepien was understandable given the "public-relations ramifications for the campaign," only months before the governor's reelection.

Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni wrote "following up" in the email to Stepien containing the mayor's letter. At the time, Port Authority executives appeared to be ignoring the mayor's calls and inquiries about why the lanes were closed. …

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