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GWB scandal: Democrats create special investigatory committee with subpoena powers

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Speaking is incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. He's flanked by John Wisniewski on his right, Lou Greenwald on his left.
Speaking is incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. He's flanked by John Wisniewski on his right, Lou Greenwald on his left. - (Andrew George / NJBIZ)

Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) will head a newly-formed special investigatory committee with subpoena power to further examine the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, Assembly Democrats announced Monday in a joint statement.

Incoming Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) and majority leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) said Monday in a joint statement with Wisniewski that they would appoint members for the committee, which will also have access to special counsel.

As chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Wisniewski has thus far led the probe into the matter, issuing subpoenas to and collecting testimony from key players involved in the alleged cover-up.

Prieto said last week that he expected the investigation to continue into the coming legislative session and was seeking legal guidance on how to go about doing so.

"We have made great strides in finding out what actually happened here with this threat to public safety and abuse of power, but so many questions remain unanswered," Wisniewski said. "The evidence that has come out in recent weeks makes clear that this now goes above and beyond a transportation issue and goes into the highest ranks of the executive branch."

Wisniewski added that the new panel will begin where the transportation committee left off but will benefit from increased resources.

While the lane closures remain the focus of the committee, Prieto said it will equipped to examine the matter beyond just a transportation issue.

"An abuse of power like this is not something we'll stand for," Prieto said.

"A concerted and focused investigation with increased resources is now needed, and I look forward to continuing to uncover answers for the people of New Jersey with these new tools at hand," Wisniewski said. "This investigation will continue with increased intensity."

While Wisniewski indicated that the "two most likely" candidates for future subpoenas from the committee would be Gov. Chris Christie's former campaign manager Bill Stepien and ex-deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, he declined to further speculate on who might be called to testify.

"I think it's premature to start creating a list," Wisniewski said.

Prieto said that the magnitude of the evidence that has emerged in recent days is what calls for the special committee to be formed.

"As the evidence in the case has unfolded, it's become clear the questions that need answering here are no longer just transportation questions," Prieto said. "They are now much bigger than that and we need a super committee led by Asm. Wisniewski armed with the resources he needs to build upon his progress and ensure all questions are answered."

Greenwald agreed with Prieto's assessment and said that he was "thrilled" that Wisniewski would be leading the panel.

"The evidence that has come out in recent days takes this to a new level and requires a ramped up effort, and that's what we're prepared to do with this special investigatory committee armed with the resources it needs," Greenwald said.

Though Prieto said the committee will be bipartisan, membership will be exclusive to lawmakers in the Assembly. A special session will be called on Thursday to authorize the committee.

But in a statement also released Monday, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said that Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) would call his own special session Thursday to consider a joint legislative committee.

"We need the combined expertise and experience of the Senate and the Assembly to get to the bottom of this," Weinberg said.

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