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Republicans Call Ongoing 'Bridgegate' Investigation A Political Witch-Hunt


An investigation into what New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew about last year's lane closures at the George Washington Bridge is running into political gridlock. There are dueling reports from members of the state legislative committee looking into the matter. Democrats say they still have important questions, but Christie's fellow Republicans say the ongoing investigation is a partisan witch hunt. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The New Jersey Select Committee on Investigation has spent the better part of a year trying to figure out why an aide to Governor Christie ordered the lane closures in September, 2013. Spoiler alert - we still don't know.


JOHN WISNIEWSKI: But at this juncture, many critical questions remain unanswered.

ROSE: Assemblyman John Wisniewski is the committee's co-chair and a vocal critic of Governor Christie. So it couldn't be easy for him to accept the conclusions of the interim report the committee released today.

WISNIEWSKI: The committee is also not in a position to currently conclude what the governor himself knew about the lane closures or when and how his knowledge of those events developed.

ROSE: Christie has long denied any involvement in the lane closures. His office didn't comment on the report, but Republicans seized on it as proof that the committee's investigation is a waste of public funds.


KEVIN O'TOOLE: Not a single shred of evidence has been uncovered by this committee linking Governor Christie to those lane reassignments.

ROSE: State Senator Kevin O'Toole is a Republican member of the committee. Today, Republicans released their own minority report accusing Democrats of playing politics rather than pursuing an independent investigation. O'Toole and Wisniewski battled over whether it was OK to even talk about the minority report at a hearing in Trenton.


WISNIEWSKI: Senator, we're not going to get into the minority report today.

O'TOOLE: This is not North Korea, John. This is America. And you've said it...

ROSE: In the end, O'Toole did get to present his arguments for upwards of 20 minutes.


O'TOOLE: What we have here is a runaway committee, perhaps driven by an agenda not rooted in determining the truth, but rather by blind political ambition.

ROSE: O'Toole accuses co-chair John Wisniewski of using the committee to boost his own political prospects, including a possible run for governor. Wisniewski denies that. He does concede that the committee's work was hampered because it could not talk to key witnesses. Some took the Fifth Amendment because of an ongoing criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. Still, Wisniewski says that the committee's work should continue.


WISNIEWSKI: This process is a shining example of how American democracy and checks and balances are supposed to work.

ROSE: The report does raise some new questions about what Christie knew after the lane closures, as it became increasingly clear that they were not part of a fictional traffic study as originally claimed. In particular, the report reveals the existence of a dozen text messages between Christie and his incoming chief of staff on the day that traffic study story was unraveling, texts which were apparently deleted. But otherwise, there was little in this report that was not already public knowledge.

PATRICK MURRAY: Nothing that came out today was new. It's not going to change anybody's opinion of the governor.

ROSE: Patrick Murray is a pollster at Monmouth University. All year, he's been asking New Jersey residents how they feel about the lane closures scandal.

MURRAY: The majority of them continue to say that the governor knows more about it and knew more about it than he's letting on. But at the end of the day, they figured whatever he knew didn't descend to the level of criminality. And therefore, it was just purely politics.

ROSE: Murray thinks it's been a long time since this scandal did any political harm to Governor Christie or his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. But that could change if the U.S. attorney for New Jersey decides to bring charges. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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