Christie had no part in bridge lane closings, spokesman testifies

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 Michael Drewniak, N.J. Gov. Christie's press secretary, testifies before the Legislature's Select Committee on Investigation. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

Michael Drewniak, N.J. Gov. Christie's press secretary, testifies before the Legislature's Select Committee on Investigation. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

During a seven-hour hearing, Gov. Chris Christie’s press secretary said he is confident the governor and other senior advisers had no involvement in the lane closures that snarled George Washington Bridge traffic for four days in September.

Michael Drewniak, who characterized the lane closures as a “strange, unnecessary, and idiotic episode,” also denied any personal involvement.“It was just so bizarre. It made no sense and had no value. So I don’t know who to believe and why they would do such a thing,” he told the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the bridge scandal during a Tuesday hearing.

He said he had dinner in December with former Port Authority official David Wildstein, and Wildstein said closing the lanes was his idea.

“He said, ‘I created this whole idea for a traffic study. It’s mine, but I let others know about that.’ He seemed bitter about that, I told people,” Drewniak said.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the co-chair of the investigative committee, said there was an implication that someone above Wildstein signed off on the lane closures.

“He believes he got authorization from somebody to do this,” said Wisniewski, D-Middlesex. “We don’t know who that is, and that’s what we’re trying to fund out.”

The investigative panel may not get that chance if Republicans on the panel prevail in their insistence that it’s the agency that operates the bridge lawmakers should be focusing on.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said after the hearing Tuesday the panel has learned enough to take action to initiate reforms at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that oversees bridge operations.

Acknowledging that it’s important to know why lanes on the bridge were closed in September, he said that’s something the U.S. attorney’s office, which is also investigating the lane closure, could determine.

“I’m not sure you need to spend $1 million in these hearings when you’ve got trained law enforcement looking for that same answer,” said Bramnick, R-Union.

Assemblywoman Amy Handlin concurred that legislators should turn their attention to the Port Authority.

“There’s a whole constellation of agencies involved in serious criminal investigations. That’s what they’re good at,” she said. “What we’re good at is crafting and passing laws so that these problems don’t continue to happen over and over and over.”

There’s no guarantee law enforcement will let lawmakers know what their investigation finds, countered Wisniewski.

“We would be remiss in our responsibilities as legislators in doing our fact finding if we were to just sit back and say law enforcement will do this work for us because we may not ever have the answers to the questions we need,” he said.

Meanwhile, Christie indicated that the state hearings have been a waste of time.

The governor told a radio audience Tuesday that Drewniak didn’t say anything that isn’t contained in a report commissioned by the governor that was released in March.

He said former aide Christina Renna also didn’t provide new details when she testified last week.

Democrats have criticized the report as a whitewash of the lane closures, carried out by Christie loyalists.

Two Port Authority officials are scheduled to appear before the investigative committee next month.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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