Thu., 9:43 pm: 20 subpoenas issued in NJ traffic scandal

TRENTON, N.J. – A special legislative panel investigating an apparent political payback scheme involving Gov. Chris Christie’s aides issued 20 new subpoenas today, and he made his first trip since the scandal broke to pledge he won’t be distracted from the job of rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy.

Christie, meanwhile, announced the hiring of a legal team to help his administration deal with multiple investigations into a scandal that won’t be put to rest quickly.

The governor’s legal team, to be led by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro, will “review best practices for office operations and information flow, and assist with document retention and production,” the administration said in a brief written statement. A spokeswoman would not say who is paying or how much the firm cost.

Two New Jersey legislative committees, including one also using a former federal prosecutor; the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, which Christie headed before running for governor; and the chairman of a U.S. Senate committee are conducting inquiries into what happened in September when lanes to the George Washington Bridge from the town of Fort Lee were shut down for four days, causing massive gridlock.

The plot apparently was hatched by Christie’s aides as a political vendetta, possibly because Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor wouldn’t endorse the Republican governor’s re-election.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is leading the primary legislative probe, said the new subpoenas seek documents from 17 people and three organizations. The recipients of the subpoenas won’t be named until the documents are served, presumably by Friday.

The likely targets are people who worked for Christie or who are or were part of his inner circle, such as Bridge Anne Kelly, the fired aide who suggested in an email to another Christie confidante “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Another likely target is Bill Stepien, Christie’s two-time campaign manager who appeared to gloat over the traffic chaos.