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   Two former associates of Gov. Chris Christie do not have to hand over documents to a legislative committee investigating the traffic jam scandal engulfing the governor, a New Jersey judge ruled Wednesday.
   Former Christie loyalists Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien had been fighting subpoenas calling for them to turn over documents regarding the plot to create traffic jams in Fort Lee to retaliate against the town's Democratic mayor. The legislative panel asked for the court's help in getting the two to comply.
   Calling the decision one involving "complicated and untested jurisdictional issues," Judge Mary Jacobson expressed reservations about using judicial power to compel the production of documents.
   "The fact that the committee has the power to enforce its own subpoenas through orders to compel and grant immunity in return, and the lack of a clear jurisdictional basis for this court to intrude upon that power, raises serious questions concerning the exercise of judicial power," Jacobson wrote in the 98-page opinion.
   Her ruling is almost certain to be appealed. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the investigative committee's Democratic co-chair, said he and his colleagues would consult with their attorneys on any further moves.
   "The committee felt it was very much in the public interest to seek to compel the production of these documents, but as we've said before, there's more than one method to gather information in an investigation, and we will consider alternatives," Wisniewski said Wednesday. "We will continue exploring every avenue to find out what happened with this threat to public safety and abuse of government power."
   The case has become a major distraction for Christie and is threatening to derail any plans to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
   A report that exonerated him has done little to quell critics, because it was written by lawyers he hired and did not include interviews with key figures such as Kelly, Stepien and David Wildstein, the political operative who is believed to have dreamed up the scheme.
   Attorneys for Kelly and Stepien have asserted that the pair's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination due to an ongoing federal criminal investigation into the September traffic jams.
   The legislative panel's attorneys argued that the law does not entitle Kelly and Stepien to blanket protections from such subpoenas. They maintain that exceptions would have to be argued case-by-case.
   Christie fired Kelly, who was a deputy chief of staff in the governor's office, and cut ties with Stepien, his former campaign manager, after learning in January that Kelly set the lane closings in motion with the message, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
   Though no evidence has been made public that Stepien knew of the plot in advance, Christie said he lost confidence in his adviser's judgment after reading emails in which he refers to Fort Lee's mayor as "an idiot" and appears to shrug off the traffic chaos the plot was causing.
   Christie has said he had no knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings until well afterward.
   Wildstein says he talked to Christie about the traffic jams on Sept. 11, the third day the lanes were blocked, but Christie says he doesn't recall the conversation. Stepien and others were forwarded an email from the mayor complaining about the gridlock on Sept. 12, the fourth and final full day that the lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge were blocked. The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency in charge of the bridge, ordered the approach lanes reopened the morning of Sept. 13.
   Stepien has since found work with a Republican consulting firm based in Minnesota. Kelly, a single mother of four, is unemployed.
   Their lawyers contend that the legislative panel could grant Kelly and Stepien immunity from prosecution in exchange for the documents. Reid Schar, the panel's lead lawyer, says the joint legislative body has no such powers.
   Other people and organizations close to Christie, including his re-election campaign, are complying with legislative subpoenas. The first to do so was Wildstein, who turned over documents the committee requested but later invoked his Fifth Amendment right when called before the committee to testify.
Published in National News
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The federal prosecutor who helped convict former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is being asked to investigate the apparent political payback scandal involving New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration.
 
The New Jersey Assembly tapped former assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, who helped convict Blagojevich of corruption, as special counsel Wednesday.
 
The special counsel will advise a legislative committee investigating a plot that shut down lanes to the George Washington Bridge for four days in September.
 
The shutdown caused massive traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee. The plot apparently was hatched as a political vendetta, possibly against the town's Democratic mayor for not endorsing the Republican governor's re-election.
 
Four members of Christie's circle have been fired or resigned.
 
Christie, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has apologized.
Published in National News
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says his administration "let down the people we are entrusted to serve" in an apparent political payback scandal but says it doesn't define his team or the state.
 
Christie made the comments Tuesday in his annual State of the State speech less than one week after revelations that at least one of his top aides helped plan politically motivated lane closures last year that led to massive gridlock. The widening scandal threatens to undermine his second term and a possible presidential run.
 
Christie addressed the issue only briefly before taking credit for improving the state's economy. According to a prepared version of the speech provided by his office, he spent only 148 words talking about the lane closings, which has been the biggest scandal of his governorship
Published in National News
FORT LEE, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie has arrived in a northern New Jersey borough to apologize in person to the mayor for traffic jams that were apparently created as political payback.
 
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had urged the governor not to make the trip late Thursday, though he said he accepts the governor's apology. Sokolich wants to see if more details emerge from various investigations.
 
Christie did not comment as he entered the Fort Lee municipal building.
 
The governor publicly apologized at a Trenton news conference Thursday morning after emails seemed to show an aide wanted highway lanes near the George Washington Bridge closed in September because the mayor wasn't endorsing Christie.
 
Christie fired the aide.
 
Sokolich says he hopes Christie will apologize again if investigations reveal additional misconduct.
Published in National News
Saturday, 16 November 2013 10:27

NJ Christie's political move disappoints mentor

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seldom makes a political miscalculation.

But when the likely 2016 presidential candidate tried to dump Tom Kean Jr. as state Senate Republican leader, he suffered a rare defeat — and alienated his political mentor, the popular former Gov. Tom Kean Sr.

The elder Kean, who is 78, tells The Associated Press Christie's maneuver surprised and disappointed him.

The question of the governor's loyalty has come up before.

His 2012 Republican National Convention speech was panned as self-serving. Christie's allegiance to Mitt Romney was questioned again when the governor embraced President Obama days before the election.

Obama's win — and Romney's loss — gives a Republican like Christie an open shot at the party's presidential nomination in 2016.

Published in National News

   ASBURY PARK, N.J. (AP) — The 2016 overtones were clear in this year's two most high-profile elections.

   Republican Gov. Chris Christie's resounding re-election victory in Democratic-leaning New Jersey sets the opening argument for a possible White House run while Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial victory gives fellow Democrats — if not his confidante Hillary Rodham Clinton, herself — a road map for success in the pivotal presidential swing-voting state.

   Christie became the first Republican to earn more than 50 percent of the New Jersey vote in a quarter-century. McAuliffe is the first member of the party occupying the White House to become Virginia governor since 1977.

   Among a slate of off-year balloting from coast to coast, New York City voters also elected Bill De Blasio, making him the first Democrat to lead the nation's largest city since 1989. Colorado agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent, and Houston rejected turning the Astrodome into a convention hall, likely dooming it to demolition. Alabama Republicans chose the establishment-backed Bradley Byrne over a tea party-supported rival in a special congressional runoff election in the conservative state.

   Turnout was relatively light — even in the most hard-fought races. Without presidential or congressional elections on the books, voters were primarily hard-core partisans. But to win, both gubernatorial victors sounded a tone of pragmatic bipartisanship — at a time of dysfunctional divided government in Washington — and, because of that pitch, they managed to cobble together a diverse cross-section of voters from across the political spectrum.

   In Virginia, McAuliffe eked out a smaller-than-expected victory over conservative Republican Ken Cuccinelli. Exit polls found Cuccinelli fared well among core right-flank constituents — tea partyers, gun owners and rural voters. But the victor, McAuliffe, held advantages among unmarried women, voters who called abortion a top issue and the vote-rich Washington suburbs.

   "Over the next four years most Democrats and Republicans want to make Virginia a model of pragmatic leadership," said McAuliffe, a Democrat taking the helm in a state where Republicans control the Legislature. "This is only possible if Virginia is the model for bipartisan cooperation."

   Democrats won the top two offices in Virginia, while the attorney general's race was too close to call. Democrats, who already control both Senate seats, hoped this election would give them control of all major statewide offices for the first time since 1970, a rejection of the conservatism that has dominated for the past four years.

   "Virginia's on its way becoming reliably blue," Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said.

   In New Jersey, Christie coasted to a second term, defeating little-known Democratic state Sen. Barbara Buono.

   He assembled a winning coalition with broad support among constituencies that don't reliably vote Republican. Exit polls show that Christie carried a majority of women and split Hispanics with Buono. He improved on his share of the vote among blacks in 2009 by more than 10 percentage points.

   Christie's advisers saw his ability to draw support from Democrats, independents and minorities as a winning argument ahead of 2016, pitching him as the most electable candidate in what could be a crowded presidential primary field.

   "As your governor, it has never mattered where someone is from, whether they voted for me or not, what the color of their skin was, or their political party. For me, being governor has always about getting the job done, first," Christie told supporters inside a rowdy convention hall in Asbury Park, N.J., just steps away from the same Jersey Shore that was devastated by Superstorm Sandy a year ago.

   Taken together, the results in individual states and cities yielded no broad judgments on how the American public feels about today's two biggest national political debates — government spending and health care — which are more likely to shape next fall's midterm elections.

   Even so, Tuesday's voting had local impact.

   Other races of note:

   —In Alabama, the GOP's internal squabbles played out in the special congressional runoff primary election. Bradley Byrne, a veteran politician and the choice of the GOP establishment, won against tea party favorite Dean Young. The race was the first test of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's promise to try to influence primaries. The group had pumped at least $200,000 into supporting Byrne.

   —Big city mayors: In New York, de Blasio cruised to victory over Republican Joe Lhota after Michael Bloomberg's 12-year tenure. Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and other cities also chose mayors.

   —Colorado: Voters agreed to tax marijuana at 25 percent and apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools. And 10 rural counties refused to approve secession from the state. One county narrowly voted to secede, but it was a symbolic gesture.

   ___

   Elliott reported from Virginia. Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta, and writers Bill Barrow and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Georgia, Kristen Wyatt in Colorado, Chris Grygiel in Washington state, Corey Williams in Michigan, Thomas Beaumont in Iowa and Nedra Pickler in Washington contributed to this report.

Published in National News

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