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Monday, December 09, 2019

Phone Data Sought On Christie’s Aide

By Shawn Boburg, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

HACKENSACK, N.J. — Lawmakers investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closings are going after the telephone records of a top aide of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, employing a new tactic in an apparent challenge to the aide’s earlier sworn testimony.

Dozens of subpoenas issued by the state legislative panel thus far have been directed at current or former government employees or offices, ordering them to go through their own files and produce documents related to the scandal.

But the latest demand for records, issued on Monday, was sent to the telecommunications company AT&T, requesting a month of phone data — including text messages — sent or received by a Christie staffer who previously testified that she had erased a communication sent to the governor at a crucial time during the unfolding scandal.

AT&T’s response to the subpoena is likely to test the legislative panel’s legal authority to obtain otherwise private text messages from a third-party telecommunications company. Such information, when sought by law enforcement, sometimes requires a search warrant. AT&T representatives did not respond to a message left at their National Subpoena Compliance Center in Florida asking if they would comply with the demand for a month of text messages sent by Regina Egea, chief of Christie’s authorities unit.

Asked about any potential legal concerns, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the panel’s Democratic co-chairman, said, “We have been guided by our counsel who advised us this was an appropriate way to seek information.”

The subpoena requests all Egea’s incoming and outgoing calls and text messages for December 2013.

On Dec. 9, Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye and two agency employees who manage the bridge testified that a Christie loyalist at the agency had ordered the lane closings. Egea told lawmakers during her hearing in July that she recalled sending Christie a text while watching the December testimony and commenting on how “professional” the Port Authority employees seemed, but she said she believed it had been erased.

The governor has said he doesn’t recall the text message.

Democratic leaders of the legislative panel said on Wednesday that the phone logs and messages, if turned over by the company, would confirm whether Egea was accurate in her description of the erased communication and whether there were other text messages.

“This is the one and only time the head of the authorities unit texted the governor about Bridgegate?” asked state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat and co-chairwoman of the panel. “It just doesn’t sound very forthcoming.”

Wisniewski said that the committee had only received two e-mails involving the governor in response to a subpoena requesting all office communications related to the lane closings. The messages, already released, concerned a statement issued about former Port Authority executive David Wildstein’s resignation.

“For someone who quite visibly uses his hand-held device to communicate, it’s remarkable to have only those two communications,” Wisniewski said.

The governor’s office declined to comment on the subpoena.

State Sen. Kevin O’Toole, a Republican lawmaker on the panel who often defends the administration, also did not return a request for comment.

The subpoena signaled that the panel intends to continue to gather information despite its stalled efforts to call more witnesses.

Weinberg said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey as recently as a week and a half ago requested that the panel refrain from calling 13 people identified as potential witnesses.
Federal prosecutors are conducting their own grand jury investigation.

Wisniewski and Weinberg said the committee’s attorney has instead been conducting informational interviews with undisclosed people.

Weinberg said she would also like to issue a subpoena to the governor’s office, demanding a list kept by Christie staffers of 100 towns that were the focus of extensive outreach.

One Christie staffer, Matt Mowers, testified that the list was composed of “politically intriguing” towns, but documents turned over also show that staffers volunteering for Christie’s campaign tracked endorsements from some of the officials in towns on the list.

The governor’s office previously provided the list, referred to as the T-100 list, but all towns except Fort Lee were blacked out, she said. Democrats want to know if the Christie administration, during regular government work hours and using public resources, used the list to court political endorsements leading up to the voting last November, when the governor was reelected.

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

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