By Shawn Boburg, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
HACKENSACK, N.J. — A top Christie official who was among the first to learn of allegations last September that the George Washington Bridge lane closures were potentially illegal testified Thursday that she didn’t inform the governor or her other superiors because she chalked up the allegations to infighting at the Port Authority.
But Democrats leading a legislative panel investigating the lane-closure scandal portrayed Regina Egea’s inaction as a convenient “lack of curiosity” as the Christie administration received multiple warning signs that the lane closures were more than just a traffic study. The leaders of the committee vowed to press on with their investigation, despite few new revelations on Thursday about the origin of the lane closures.
Egea, Gov. Chris Christie’s liaison to the state’s independent authorities and the fifth person to testify under oath before the panel, said she had no previous knowledge of the lane closures orchestrated by Christie appointees at the Port Authority, apparently as an act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee.
The nearly seven-hour hearing on Thursday focused on Egea’s reaction to early allegations that the closures were improper and her involvement in preparing a Christie appointee for testimony in November in which he attributed the lane closures to a traffic study.
Egea said she took the word of Bill Baroni, the Port Authority’s deputy executive director and a Christie appointee, that there was a legitimate traffic study. She began to question the study only after learning during testimony of other Port Authority officials in December that the closures were not necessary to study traffic flow at the entrance to the bridge.
Egea also came under fire Thursday for deleting a text message she said she sent to Christie in December, after damaging testimony by those Port Authority officials before that committee hearing. Egea said that in the text message she commented that one of the Port Authority officials who undercut the traffic study was “very professional.” But Democrats, who said the text message had not been handed over in response to subpoenas issued to Egea and the governor’s office, said it raised questions about whether there were other relevant records the administration officials had deleted.
As Egea testified in Trenton, top federal prosecutor made rare public comments about his criminal investigation into the lane closures, discounting recent news reports that said indictments were imminent.
“Reports in the press that purport to describe what I might be thinking or what the people who are working on that matter might be thinking or contemplating have been almost entirely incorrect. You should be wary of reports that attribute — are for attribution or otherwise — what we’re thinking or what we’re doing,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said after an unrelated event in Newark.
Fishman’s comments were in response to a recent story by Esquire magazine that stated that four Christie aides could be indicted as early as this month.
There are signs, however, that Fishman’s office is actively investigating. His office has asked the legislative panel not to call several witnesses to testify publicly, casting uncertainty over the future of the lawmakers’ investigation. Leaders of the legislative panel said Thursday that those people may become available to give testimony in the future, and they did not rule out more hearings.
A co-chairman of the committee, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, said the Christie administration repeatedly failed to ask questions about the lane closures because “they didn’t want to know the answer.”
For Egea, the chief of the governor’s authorities unit, the first chance came on the last day of the lane closures.
On that day, an e-mail by the Port Authority’s Executive Director Pat Foye, a New York appointee, calling the closures “abusive” and potentially illegal was forwarded to her. But Egea said Thursday that she saw “no evidence” to support the allegations at the time and waved off the missive as an effort to damage New Jersey’s appointees at the bi-state agency.
She did not report the email to the governor or any of her superiors in the office, she said.
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr
Interested in national news? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!