Written by Keith Brown and Anthony Bellano
David Wildstein, the former high-raking Port Authority official close to Gov. Chris Christie, was held in contempt Thursday after he refused to answer the questions of a state Assembly committee investigating his role in the manufactured closure of four lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
Wildstein, who tried unsuccessfully to quash a subpoena requiring him to appear before the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities committee Thursday, declined to answer each question from the committee, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent.
Wildstein was held in contempt, opening the possibility for a prosecutor to pursue Wildstein’s refusal to answer as a fourth-degree crime.
At the completion of the hearing, committee Chairman Assemblyman John Wisniewski read from the rules governing the committee, which call for the imposition of the misdemeanor if anyone called before the committee refuses to answer the panel's questions.
Wisniewski called for a vote of the committee on whether the committee's questions were pertinent to the investigation. The vote was unanimous.
"Mr. Wildstein, I'm getting the feeling that I'm wasting my time here,'' Wisniewski said about 15 minutes into the hearing.
Wildstein, who resigned after questions about the lane closures intensified, is cited in emails sent from Christie's office calling for the lane closures.
Emails first obtained by The Record show former Deputy Chief of Staff Brigette Anne Kelly told Wildstein that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” about two weeks before the lanes were closed.
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
Wildstein's refusal to answer questions came less than an hour after Christie ended a press conference announcing that Kelly was fired for her involvement in the lane closures.
Wisniewski asked about the emails between Kelly and Wildstein in which the former Port Authority executive appeared to agree to close the four lanes leading to the bridge. Wildstein refused to answer.
Millie Silva, a Democratic Lt. Governor candidate in the November election, said it was "like watching a bad episode of Boardwalk Empire.''
"The bullying, lies, political games and jigsaw puzzle of responsibility is government at its worst," Silva said. "New Jersey residents deserve better."
After about 30 minutes of getting no answers from Wildstein, Wisniewski let other members of the committee attempt to elicit a response from Wildstein. None were successful.
Wisniewski, appearing somewhat frustrated, questioned whether Wildstein had not already waived his right to remain silent by providing the documents to the committee that they were now asking him about.
"It's no secret where the documents came from, so it would seem to me that the privilege that you're asserting has already been waived in providing these documents,'' he said.
Following the hearing, Wisniewski called Gov. Chris Christie’s credibility “strained” as a result of the situation.
“It strains his credibility to say this was a rogue operation,” Wisniewski said.
He said the committee’s focus would likely shift to Kelly and Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager who was pulled from consideration as the head of the state Republican Party committee in the wake of the email revelations.“They were the focus of the governor’s ire,” Wisniewski said. “I think it’s appropriate we ask what they knew.”