Christie appointee: I didn't know of bridge plot
An appointee of Gov. Chris Christie's to the Port Authority board of commissioners told lawmakers Tuesday that he had no prior knowledge of the decision to block traffic near the George Washington Bridge last fall and would not have condoned using the span for political retribution.
The commissioner, Pat Schuber, was the first official from the agency to testify before a New Jersey legislative committee investigating last September's lane closings, which caused four days of gridlock in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the busy bridge. The U.S. attorney's office is also investigating.
The plot to block the lanes was set in motion by a former Christie deputy and the ensuing scandal caused a major distraction for the second-term Republican as he contemplates a run for president in 2016. Christie has denied knowing about the plot's planning or execution, or why Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who did not endorse the governor, was the apparent target.
Schuber, a former Republican elected official, said he quickly came to see the lane closings as a "political football" as Christie ran for re-election. He said that's why he didn't respond to a letter from Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg expressing concern and disappointment over the lane closings. Schuber and Weinberg once ran against one another in a local election.
Former Port Authority Chairman David Samson, who also got Weinberg's letter, commented on it to Schuber: "What a jerk! Do you want me to do anything?" he asked in emails that were released as part of the scandal investigation.
Samson, a close Christie ally, resigned his post in March amid questions over whether he abused his power by voting on Port Authority projects in which his law firm had an interest. In the emails, he had angry words for the agency executive who he believed leaked information to the media.
The emails exposed tensions between the New York and New Jersey factions at the Port Authority and have lawmakers from both states calling for reforms.
Schuber, who testified for more than three hours, ducked questions on whether Samson should have recused himself from certain Port Authority votes. Schuber said recusal decisions are made by Port Authority lawyers in consultation with the commissioner involved.
Schuber said the commissioners never discussed a Sept. 13 email by the agency's executive director, Patrick Foye, ordering the lanes reopened and expressing concern that the traffic-blocking operation may have been illegal.