Posted: May 20, 2014 4:54 AM
Updated: May 20, 2014 4:54 AM
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) A former aide to Gov. Chris Christie whose job included getting endorsements from mayors, one of whom was apparently targeted in the political payback plot orchestrated by Christie loyalists, was to appear Tuesday before lawmakers investigating the scandal that's engulfed the governor's administration.
The former aide, Matt Mowers, is the fifth person subpoenaed to testify before the Democrat-led panel. He worked in Christie's office and on last year's re-election campaign and is now the executive director of New Hampshire's Republican Party.
The committee is trying to determine who ordered traffic lanes blocked in September at the George Washington Bridge and why. The plot caused gridlock in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the heavily traveled span linking New Jersey and New York, and appears to have been directed at the town's mayor, a Democrat who did not endorse Christie.
Mowers' job duties included courting mayors in northern New Jersey for re-election endorsements of Christie.
The Christie campaign aggressively sought endorsements from Democrats around the state. A big re-election win in a Democrat-leaning state, which he did achieve, would improve his standing in a crowded 2016 Republican presidential field, though the scandal has raised questions about Christie's viability as a potential candidate.
Christie has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the planning or execution of the lane closings. He fired one aide and forced other appointees out.
Former aide Bridget Kelly called Mowers on Aug. 12 to confirm that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich would not be endorsing the governor. The next morning, Kelly set the lane closings in motion with an email, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Christie, who says he is still considering running for president and will decide his political future later, recently said the lane closings would be "a footnote" by 2016. But his prediction last week came the same day his former campaign manager contradicted Christie's timeline of the bridge scandal.
Political operative Bill Stepien said Christie misspoke Dec. 13 when he told reporters he had received assurances that no one close to him knew about the lane closings. He said he informed Christie on Dec. 12 that he knew about the plan to divert traffic but was told it was part of a study. Patrick Foye, the executive director of the bridge agency, who ordered the lanes reopened after four days, said he was unaware of any traffic study.
Stepien said the idea was brought up by David Wildstein, an administrative operative at the bridge agency, who frequently came to Stepien with "crazy ideas."
Wildstein was forced to resign. Christie also cut ties with Stepien, a valued political strategist who had been in line to run any national Christie campaign, saying he no longer trusted his judgment.