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Christie hires firm for review of traffic scandal

January 16, 2014
Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie hired a legal team headed by a former federal prosecutor, one day after lawmakers tapped another one to investigate an apparent political payback scandal.

Former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro will lead the team from the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the administration said in a news release Thursday. The firm will review best practices for office operations and assist with ongoing investigations.

Mastro was an assistant U.S. attorney who specialized in organized crime cases and led the federal government's landmark racketeering suit that compelled the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to hold elections and undergo court supervision, the administration said. He also served as a deputy mayor of New York City.

The U.S. attorney's office in New Jersey and the Legislature are looking into a plot that shut down lanes to the George Washington Bridge for four days in September, causing massive traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee. 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.

At a news conference last week, Christie said he would continue interviewing his senior staff to determine if there is any other information he needs to know and take any other action, but he did not indicate his review would go further than that.

Meanwhile, the Legislature on Thursday prepared to issue new subpoenas as part of its investigation.

The subpoenas will be served once the New Jersey Assembly votes to renew its authority to continue the inquiry in the new legislative session. The vote is a formality.

On Wednesday, the Assembly tapped Reid Schar, the federal prosecutor who helped convict former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of corruption, to aid in the investigation.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is leading the investigation, says the new subpoenas will seek emails and text messages from key Christie aides. Documents that were subpoenaed earlier and released recently showed that a now-fired member of Christie's administration gave the go-ahead to shut down the traffic lanes.

The Republican governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate hasn't been implicated, but the scandal has dogged him. He'll seek to turn the cameras away from the scandal and onto his work as governor when he visits a firehouse Thursday on the Jersey shore, an area devastated by the October 2012 storm. He'll meet there with homeowners midmorning.

The lead prosecutor in the Blagojevich case, Schar has a reputation as a bright, serious-minded workhorse who shuns showmanship and bluster. He co-chairs the white collar defense and investigations practice for the law firm Jenner & Block LLP.

He issued a statement Wednesday saying his firm "understands the importance of this investigation" and will "work diligently" to support the committee.

Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison term for trying to sell an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.



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