TRENTON, N.J. (CBS/AP) — A former appointee of Gov. Chris Christie was found by lawmakers to be in contempt Thursday after he refused to answer questions from a legislative committee looking into a scandal involving punitive traffic lane closures.
Swearing in before the Assembly Transportation Committee, Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein took questions about ordering lane closures last September at the George Washington Bridge.
“On the advice of my counsel I respectively assert my right to remain silent under the United States and New Jersey Constitutions,” Wildstein said.
David Wildstein repeatedly asserted his right to remain silent on the advice of his lawyer. He had fought the order to appear before a committee, but a state judge earlier in the day said it was proper that he be subpoenaed to appear.
Still, committee members went on asking him questions for an hour, almost all of them relating to e-mails and text messages Wildstein previously provided the committee.
The legislative panel is investigating why the lanes were suddenly closed in September, causing traffic gridlock in Fort Lee. Other officials have said Wildstein ordered the closures. Emails and text messages revealed Wednesday that Christie’s aides may have been out to punish the town’s mayor for not endorsing the governor (see related story).
Assembly Transportation Committee chairman John Wisniewski, a Democrat, said the contempt matter could be followed up by a prosecutor. The penalty would be up to 18 months in prison, but people convicted of such offenses generally are not jailed.
His lawyer, Alan Zegas, told lawmakers he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent out of fear of being prosecuted.
“He has the right to not give answer by a prosecutor who were to charge him,” Zegas said, “even if he were to charge him wrongly.”
One lawmaker, Democrat Thomas Giblin, pleaded unsuccessfully for Wildstein to speak, telling him he shouldn’t become “a fall guy.”
“It seems to me that silence is not golden today. Don’t let David Wildstein be the fall guy on some of these issues that have cropped up,” Giblin said.
Wildstein resigned last month as Christie’s No. 2 appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He knew Christie in high school, but Christie denies the two had a close, personal relationship.
Wisniewski said his committee would issue subpoenas to other officials involved, including Bridget Anne Kelly, a gubernatorial aide who was fired Thursday, and Bill Stepien, who was ousted as chairman of the state Republican organization.
“The George Washington Bridge, a public resource, used for political purposes. That’s intolerable and should be allowed to happen again,” Wisniewski said.
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