Legislative panel set to hear from former aide to Christie in bridge traffic jam investigation

Angela Delli Santi / The Associated Press
May 19, 2014 09:58 PM

Matt Mowers, former aide to Gov. Chris Christie, answers a question in Trenton, N.J., Tuesday, May 20, 2014, from New Jersey lawmakers investigating the traffic jam scandal that's engulfed the governor's administration. Mowers, whose job included getting endorsements from mayors, said Tuesday that he was "dumbfounded and disappointed" to learn that a northern New Jersey mayor was apparently targeted in a political payback plot orchestrated by Christie loyalists. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

TRENTON, N.J. - Another former aide to Gov. Chris Christie is appearing before New Jersey legislators investigating lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, a scandal that has raised questions about the Republican's viability as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

Matt Mowers is the fifth person subpoenaed to testify before the Democrat-led panel, and he will appear on Tuesday. He is the executive director of New Hampshire's Republican Party, and he worked in Christie's office and on last year's re-election campaign.

The committee is trying to determine who ordered traffic lanes blocked in September and why. The plot caused gridlock in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the heavily travelled span linking New Jersey and New York, and appears to have been directed at the town's mayor, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie.

Mowers' job duties included courting mayors in northern New Jersey for endorsements.

The Christie campaign aggressively sought endorsements from Democrats around the state. A big re-election win in a Democrat-leaning state, which he did achieve, would improve his standing in a crowded 2016 GOP presidential field.

Christie has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings. He fired one aide and forced other appointees out.

Former aide Bridget Kelly called Mowers on Aug. 12 to confirm that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich would not be endorsing the governor. The next morning, Kelly set the lane closings in motion with an email, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Christie, who says he is still considering running for president and will decide his political future later, recently said the lane closings would be "a footnote" by 2016. But his prediction last week came the same day his former campaign manager contradicted Christie's timeline of the bridge scandal.

Political operative Bill Stepien said Christie misspoke Dec. 13 when he told reporters he had received assurances that no one close to him knew about the lane closings. He said he informed Christie on Dec. 12 that he knew about the plan to divert traffic but was told it was part of a study. Patrick Foye, the executive director of the bridge agency, who ordered the lanes reopened after four days, said he was unaware of any traffic study.

Stepien said the idea was brought up by David Wildstein, an administrative operative at the bridge agency, who frequently came to Stepien with "crazy ideas."

Wildstein was forced to resign. Christie also cut ties with Stepien, a valued political strategist who had been in line to run any national Christie campaign, saying he no longer trusted his judgment.

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