HARI SREENIVASAN: There is a new and potentially important development in the investigation of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. To tell us more about that and the governor’s latest response to it we’re joined now by Michael Aron — he’s the Chief Political Correspondent for NJTV News. So, for someone not in the tri-state area, not thinking about the Super Bowl, not thinking about Governor Christie, what happened yesterday and why is it so important?
MICHAEL ARON: Late yesterday, David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official at the center of the George Washington Bridge lane closures, through his attorney, asked the Port Authority to pay for his legal defense, something that they said they won’t do. In the three-page letter asking the Port Authority to pay for his legal defence, the attorney writes “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly…” Basically accusing the governor of having lied. And when people first heard this they thought, the governor’s going down, he lied. But I went back to the transcript of the governor’s press conference on this three and a half weeks ago…
HARI SREENIVASAN: Two-hour press conference…
MICHAEL ARON: …two-hour press conference, 26-page transcript, on page five, he says, “I knew nothing about this. Until it started to be reported in the papers about the closure, and even then I was told this was a traffic study.” Well, it started to be reported in the papers that Friday, and the closures existed Monday through Thursday. Wildstein says he knew about it during the closures, that could have been as late as Thursday. Christie is saying I learned about it on Friday. I don’t know if they’re really that far apart in what they’re saying. So while the tabloids here in New York this morning say “Gov., you’re lying,” is that really such a big lie?
HARI SREENIVASAN: Okay and this defection, I mean people will also attribute their different motivations for Mr. Wildstein’s team, perhaps getting a more lenient sentence if he turns on the governor. Or Is this a sign of more things to come? Are there other members of that inner circle?
MICHAEL ARON: There are, he is clearly looking for immunity. This now the fourth time he or his lawyer have signaled he would like to be immune from prosecution and has more to say. He’s also looking for help with his legal bills that are going to be considerable. At the same time yesterday Bill Stepien, the governor’s former campaign manager, through his attorney, indicated that he will not comply with a legislative subpoena either for documents or testimony, he would take the fifth. And finally, Bridget Kelly, the third out of four people so far implicated in all this has changed lawyers this week, going from someone who was seen to be close to Chris Christie to a much more bulldog aggressive, democratic leaning, white collar defense attorney — some say the best in the state — Michael Critchley. They might have a deal that they would like to present to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
HARI SREENIVASAN And Wildstein has a long history with Christie?
MICHAEL ARON: They went to high school together. Chris Christie and David Wildstein went to volunteer for Tom Kean Sr. running for governor in 1977. The governor said at his press conference, ‘this notion that he’s my childhood friend, my high school friend, is way overblown. I was class president and athlete, I don’t know what David was doing.’ But what’s been lost in all this is that for the last 10 years David Wildstein ran a website, a political website, and I can’t imagine that Chris Christie didn’t communicate as U.S. Attorney with David Wildstein quite a bit to get the message out about the various undertakings that he was behind — all those 10 years he was building his name and his brand.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So finally there are multiple investigations underway. One looking at bridge gate, another looking at whether the governor used Sandy funds in forms of retribution or as a reward for supporting him. Where are these investigations? What’s the pace of them?
MICHAEL ARON: They’re gonna go slow. It feels like I guess another big revelation or some bombshell piece of testimony could speed things up. But the legislative subpoenas, the first round to 18 people and two organizations — the governor’s office and his campaign committee — are due on Monday. I imagine it’s gonna take the staff and the leads of that committee at least a week or ten days to sift through that, decide what they want to release to the public. The U.S. attorney we learned yesterday, through indirect means, is looking at both bridge gate, as we call it, and sandy recover, use of sandy funds, has impaneled a grand jury. That process could take months.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent for NJTV News, thanks so much.
MICHAEL ARON: Thanks Hari.