The New York Times reports this morning that Chris Christie’s administration used wreckage from 9/11 as “politically motivated gifts,” part of a politicization of the Port Authority that is coming under increasing scrutiny from federal prosecutors in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal.
For a state that lost hundreds of lives on Sept. 11, the gifts were emotionally resonant: pieces of steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center. They were presented by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to 20 carefully chosen New Jersey mayors who sat atop a list of 100 whose endorsements Gov. Chris Christie hoped to win.
At photo opportunities around the mangled pieces of steel, Bill Baroni, Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, told audiences how many people wanted a similar remnant of the destroyed buildings, and how special these mayors were.
Mayors lower on the list of 100 — such as Mark Sokolich, of Fort Lee, at No. 45 — received other Port Authority perquisites: an intimate tour of the National September 11 Memorial, or the new World Trade Center construction site, or Port Authority money for jobs programs or new firefighting equipment, even in towns far from the port.
Turning wreckage of the twin towers into politically motivated gifts before Mr. Christie’s 2013 re-election was only one example. The authority became a means to reward friends (or hire them) and punish adversaries, and a bank to be used when Mr. Christie sought to avoid raising taxes. Major policy initiatives, such as instituting a large toll and fare increase in 2011, were treated like political campaigns to burnish the governor’s image.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Friday subpoenaed the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for records related to potential conflicts of interest involving its chairman, David Samson, a prominent New Jersey lawyer and close political ally of Gov. Chris Christie, according to people briefed on the matter.
On Monday, the subpoena was withdrawn, apparently to clear the way for the investigation to be pursued by federal prosecutors in New Jersey, who had already been reviewing the politically charged closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, according to two of those briefed on the matter.
Lawyers for two key figures in a political payback plot ensnaring New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration will be in court to try to convince a judge not to force them to turn over text messages and other private communications to state legislators investigating the matter.
Fired Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien say complying with the subpoenas carries the risk of self-incrimination. Kelly planned to be in court on Tuesday; Stepien does not.
The subpoenas seek documents involving the intentional blocking of traffic near the George Washington Bridge in September, which created hours-long back-ups in nearby Fort Lee, apparently to punish the town’s Democratic mayor.