Bridge scandal: Fort Lee mayor won’t cooperate with Chris Christie lawyers
In a letter sent today to Randy Mastro, a former federal prosecutor leading the governor’s legal team, an attorney for Mayor Mark Sokolich declines to have his client sit for a private interview, or to voluntarily hand over documents related to the closures. Mastro had requested both in a letter sent more than a week ago.
“While the mayor has gone out of his way to be fair to all parties in this matter, he wants to make sure that he respects the legal proceedings that are ongoing,” the attorney, Tim Donohue, wrote in the reply. “In light of the parallel investigations being conducted at the same time regarding the same subject matter, I do not believe it would be appropriate for the mayor to be interviewed by you or to produce any documents.”
In September, several lanes leading to the bridge were closed in what Democrats contend was an act of political retaliation against Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing the popular Republican governor for re-election. Christie has denied any involvement and fired a top aide who was tied to the gridlock-inducing closures.
Mastro and his team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher had also filed an open records request with Fort Lee’s clerk. The request, which targets Sokolich and his staff, seeks documents — including emails and other correspondence — related to the lane closures, as well as documents provided to newspaper reporters. Donohue said today that Mastro should receive those documents soon.
The lane closures are already the subject of inquiries by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a committee formed by New Jersey’s Legislature to look into the closures. Christie’s office has described Mastro’s work as that of an internal investigator, hired to find out if anyone else on the governor’s staff knew about the closures or helped plan them.
Mastro’s firm also sent an interview request this month to lawyers representing Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff and a prominent player in the scandal. David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official also at the center of the controversy, also was contacted by the firm, his lawyer said last week.
The firm sent similar letters to officials in Hoboken, where Mayor Dawn Zimmer has accused members of the Christie administration of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she did not support a development project in the city. Those she has accused have flatly denied the allegations. Zimmer and the others also turned down the request.
Mastro, whose firm is earning $650 an hour for the work, has used strong language in all of his requests.
“The Governor’s Office takes the allegations regarding the George Washington Bridge toll/lane realignments from September 9-13, 2013 very seriously,” Mastro wrote in his request to Sokolich. “For that reason, we have assembled a team here that includes five former federal prosecutors and are conducting a thorough review of the facts pertinent to these allegations.”
Donohue said in his letter today Sokolich feels the same way.
“I can assure you that the mayor also takes these allegations seriously, especially since the gridlock resulting from these closures caused a serious public safety threat for the citizens of Fort Lee and this state, Donohue wrote.