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By Melissa Hayes and Michael Phillis, The Record (Hackensack, NJ)

TRENTON, N.J. — A former top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey redacted the name of a Republican state senator when he submitted hundreds of pages of communication to a legislative committee charged with probing the lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge.

David Wildstein, who resigned from his position as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority, blacked out a text message mentioning state Sen. Kevin O’Toole, R-Cedar Grove.

The text, from Wildstein to Bill Baroni, the Port Authority’s former deputy executive director who was also appointed by Christie, was sent at 11:59 a.m. on Nov. 25. It reads, “O’Toole statement ready.” The Record obtained documents Wednesday that included the text messages without redaction. The timing of the message is key because it came just after Baroni spoke with the Assembly Transportation Committee about the lane closures.

O’Toole is one of four Republicans on a 12-member New Jersey Select Committee on Investigation that was formed in January to look into the lane closures. The panel’s Democratic leaders, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, have said O’Toole might be called to answer questions about what he knew. Republicans on the committee stood by O’Toole, saying there is no evidence he did anything wrong.

O’Toole has not responded to requests for comment. Wildstein’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

“Kevin is very bright and is very attentive to the necessity of being aboveboard, so I’m certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, R-Morris, a member of the committee. “If he feels he can be an objective participant in this, I have no reason to believe otherwise.”

O’Toole’s name also came up in another document handed over by Wildstein, an email, but was not redacted in that instance.

The redaction of the text message, however, is raising additional questions, Wisniewski said, adding that he hoped O’Toole would clarify their content for the committee.

“We hope that he would provide the committee with any information,” Wisniewski said, adding that he was prepared to work with O’Toole. “Nobody was making an issue of his position on the committee. There are a series of questions that people have raised.”

The text was sent moments after Baroni told the Assembly Transportation Committee that the lane closures that tied up traffic for more than four days were part of a traffic study to determine whether Fort Lee needed three dedicated toll plaza lanes to access the bridge. Baroni had reached out to Wildstein seeking feedback about his testimony from officials in Trenton.

O’Toole released a statement to the media hours later attacking the Democrats who led the November meeting and echoing points Baroni made in his testimony.

“Why was a sweetheart deal done that gave Fort Lee three lanes and a dedicated exit,” O’Toole asked in his statement. “Who thought this was fair? If we are going to be honest with the citizens of New Jersey then let’s be honest, this certainly isn’t it.”

Weinberg said the committee could call O’Toole to answer questions about what he knew about Baroni’s testimony, which used the purported traffic study to explain the lane closures that were carried out by Wildstein and ordered by a former deputy chief of staff to Christie apparently as political retribution against the Fort Lee mayor for failing to endorse the governor’s re-election bid last year.

O’Toole also submitted an opinion piece to The Record, which was published the next day and again attacked Democrats and questioned the need for dedicated Fort Lee lanes.

“The chairman of that committee and his fellow Democrats conducted this hearing to repeatedly hammer one of Christie’s appointments to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in an attempt to score political points against the governor,” O’Toole wrote. “They ignored facts and refused to ask why the majority of New Jersey commuters must suffer.”

The documents Wildstein provided in response to a legislative subpoena were made public by the committee investigating the lane closures last month. Wildstein included his text messages with Baroni on Nov. 25. One line is blacked out.

Baroni did not turn over text messages in response to the initial legislative subpoena.

But he has provided additional documents as part of a new subpoena, including the text messages he exchanged with Wildstein the day he appeared before the Assembly panel.

In Baroni’s document, it is clear that the line redacted in Wildstein’s submission is the reference to O’Toole.

Wildstein’s documents include another reference to O’Toole. In an email to Michael Drewniak, Christie’s press secretary, on Dec. 5 Wildstein writes, “Thanks again for all your sound advice last night, I always appreciate your friendship. Spoke with O’Toole this morning and he will talk with you later.”

Wildstein announced his resignation the next day. Drewniak did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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