The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the mysterious closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September has subpoenaed a cellphone carrier in an effort to uncover text messages exchanged by Gov. Chris Christie and a top aide as the governor’s administration sought to contain the fallout from the ensuing scandal.
The aide, Regina Egea, told the panel last month that she texted the governor in December after a legislative hearing at which employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, first rebutted the administration’s assertion that the lanes had been closed as part of a traffic study.
The authority workers also said during the hearing that Christie’s staff at the agency had instructed them not to give notice of the lane closings to the police or public officials in Fort Lee, New Jersey, the town shut down for four days by the resulting traffic snarl. The town’s mayor maintains that the closings were political retribution for his refusal to endorse the governor for re-election.
In the subpoena released Wednesday, the committee asks AT&T to produce records of all calls and texts to and from the cellphone of Egea, the governor’s liaison to the authority, during December.
The Democrats leading the panel, the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, have accused the governor’s office of withholding documents in response to their previous subpoenas. During her appearance before the committee last month, Egea was asked specifically by legislators why neither she nor Christie’s office had submitted the text in response to subpoenas for all records of communications related to the lane closings.
Egea said that she had deleted it, prompting legislators to press her about whether she might have deleted other text exchanges with the governor, a Republican. New Jersey law requires the governor’s office to preserve such communications.
Asked about the text by reporters later, Christie said he had no recollection of it. “If I had it, I would have turned it over,” he said.
The governor has told allies that he had learned when he was the U.S. attorney for New Jersey to communicate by text rather than email, because text messages are harder to trace. (Email can remain on servers even after being deleted; cellphone carriers vary in how long they preserve deleted texts.)
At the time that Egea sent the text, Christie and his aides were increasingly concerned about the legislative inquiry into the lane closings. They knew that the committee’s subpoena power would expire in January, and hoped to stave off further questions and the release of records that might show involvement or knowledge by administration officials.