After multiple documents were released, shakeups occurred, and more questions developed; Democrats in Trenton led by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) would take the next step. That step would be announcing the 12 member Assembly committee that would investigate the bridge scandal.
The committee would be made up of eight Democrats and four Republicans and led by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19). Besides Wisniewski, the committee included: Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-36), Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25), Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-26), Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6), Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37), Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-4), Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39), Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-22), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15).
As Prieto would state,
The goal of the committee is to get answers to the questions that we have and continue on what the Assembly committee has already started. We’ve got more questions than answers we’ve gotten.
While that committee was taking shape locally in New Jersey, there were discussions taking place in Washington D.C. as the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation were doing their own studies and asking their own questions. While Assemblyman Wisniewksi was leading the efforts in New Jersey, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) was leading the charge for more information and answers on the national level.
As these developments were taking place both locally and nationally, one Republican in the Assembly was trying to pump the brakes on the whole process of conversations and committees. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) was looking to see committee investigations halted in favor of the U.S. Attorney’s office leading the investigation.
I have no problem whatsoever that the U.S. Attorney takes over investigations. Let the chips fall where they may. But once you have politicians investigating politicians for wrongdoing, it can’t be fair.
Wisniewski would quickly fire back,
We’re respectful of whatever work the U.S. Attorney may be doing on this but we have not heard from him or his office and will continue the legislative oversight that Assembly Bramnick and Republicans have praised and voted unanimously to continue.
Then, if things were not already complicated with committees and discussions; Governor Chris Christie announced that the administration had hired a law firm to assist with the internal investigation into the bridge scandal. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP was hired to assist with the governor’s investigation in addition to an inquiry led by a U.S. Attorney.
For Mike Drewniak, Christie’s spokesman,
Governor Christie made clear last week that he will conduct an internal review to uncover the facts surrounding the lane closures in Fort Lee. His administration is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney inquiry and other appropriate inquiries and requests for information.
He would add,
Their presence (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP) will bring an outside, third-party perspective to the situation, and they will be a valuable asset as we move forward. This administration is committed to ensuring that what happened here never happens again. That’s what the people of New Jersey deserve.
Former prosecutor Randy Mastro would lead the review. Mastro is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
With conversations going back and forth over how this scandal should be reviewed, another committee began to take form in the State Legislature to investigate this matter.
Prieto and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) would select 11 of the 12 members of the committee that would bring together members of both legislative bodies in the Statehouse. The committee would be led by Wisniewski amd Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37). The rest of the committee would be made up of: state Senators Nia Gill (D-34) and Linda Greenstein (D-14), Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-36), Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25), Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6), Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39), Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15).
A 12th member and final member was named shortly after and it would be state Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40). Bramnick selected the names for Assembly Republicans on the committee.
After discussions separately in both the state Senate and Assembly, this joint committee was decided upon as the best route forward to accurately and fully discuss this matter and investigation. As there were contrasting viewpoints on how to handle this investigation, Wisniewski and Weinberg were still unrelenting in their pursuit of a State Legislature-led investigation as opposed to one being conducted by the U.S. Attorney.
Wisniewski would go on to state,
Ours is not a criminal investigation. What the Legislature is doing is trying to figure out how we can change the rules so people can’t play the system the way it was in this circumstance. What we’re after is understanding more about how the mechanics could happen. How can a communication from the governor’s office to somebody at the Port Authority lead to lane closures that bypass existing agency protocols? Clearly, there’s something not in place that should be. Our end goal is not prosecution. Our end goal is fixing the laws so this can not happen again. And it’s not inconceivable that both agendas can proceed simultaneously.
While Weinberg would add,
We owe this to the people of New Jersey to investigate these matters, to provide them with answers and to make any necessary changes to ensure that such actions will never occur again. This joint committee will allow for a coordinated, focused investigation which we believe will provide the most effective means of getting to the facts.
With a committee formed to fully dissect what transpired last fall, subpoenas would continue to be issued and individuals linked to the lane closures would start to provide details to go along with the vast amount of documents.