Ex-Christie Aides Seek Immunity in Deal for Bridge Scandal Documents

Ms. Kelly and Mr. Stepien are the only two people who have refused to comply, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The legislative committee sued to get them to comply. But in the hearing last week, Judge Mary Jacobson of State Superior Court suggested that the committee possessed its own power to force them to turn over the documents, by holding them in contempt of the Legislature, or by granting them immunity. She asked the committee’s lawyers to file papers explaining their views on the committee’s power to hold the two in contempt or grant them immunity.

In its response this week, the committee turned over records of 33 communications about the lane closings and the efforts by Mr. Christie’s aides to portray them as a traffic study rather than political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, who had declined to endorse the governor’s re-election.

Some were copies of exchanges that are public, but some newly public documents showed Mr. Stepien and Ms. Kelly — and more broadly, the governor’s office and the campaign — in regular contact about the lane closings, particularly as first the mayor and later reporters began pressing for answers about why the lanes were closed.

In his filings Friday, Mr. Stepien’s lawyer argued that the committee’s lawyer — and the communications released — had failed to prove Mr. Stepien was “central” to the lane closings.

Mr. Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, argued that the emails released earlier this week showed nothing more than a campaign manager doing his job two months before Election Day.

“It is unremarkable that just months before the gubernatorial election, a governmental official would forward the governor’s campaign manager a letter from a mayor that could potentially have public-relations ramifications for the campaign,” Mr. Marino wrote.

Ms. Kelly’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, argued that the legislative committee did not want to grant immunity because it knew that doing so would hurt a separate investigation by the United States attorney’s office, and that federal investigators might therefore intervene to shut down the investigative committee.

Mr. Christie fired Ms. Kelly after it was revealed in January that she sent an email calling for “some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The same day, Mr. Christie announced that he was withdrawing Mr. Stepien’s nomination to head the State Republican Party, and had asked him to withdraw as a consultant to the Republican Governors Association, which Mr. Christie leads.

Lawyers for Ms. Kelly and Mr. Stepien have argued that the subpoenas — which requested cellphones and other electronic devices as well as personal communications and calendars — violate their clients’ privacy. Asking them to search their documents for anything “regarding the lane closures,” as the subpoena asks, would force them to testify against themselves if only because they would have to admit that they had such documents and make judgments about which communications related to the lane closings.

In its filing to Judge Jacobson, the committee argued that it was “unsettled” whether state statute gave it power to grant immunity — that power, the committee’s lawyers argued, applies to oral testimony and not to document production. But they also said the committee did not have to decide the question of immunity until the court ruled on whether Ms. Kelly and Mr. Stepien were correctly exercising their Fifth Amendment right.

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