New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager has been hired by a GOP-linked consulting firm as investigations into the Fort Lee lane closures continue. Documents released Monday seem to show that Bill Stepien, a two-time Christie campaign manager who later became his deputy chief of staff, was kept more in the loop about the traffic problems in Fort Lee than previously thought, the Associated Press reports.
The Fort Lee lane closures in September, believed to be an act of political retribution, turned into a disaster for the New Jersey governor. Blocked lanes caused nightmare backups, with school buses and emergency vehicles thrown into an already hellish commute across the George Washington Bridge. Christie claimed to know nothing about the closures, yet it has cast a shadow over what once looked like a promising path to the 2016 presidential race. Christie did admit that “mistakes were made” during his 2014 inaugural speech in January.
Not that the Fort Lee debacle has hurt Stepien so much. He has landed work at a top Republican consulting firm last month after being fired by Christie in January, Jeff Goldman at The Star-Ledger reports. FLS Connect, Stepien’s new place of work, is a “phone-banking and data company with strong ties to the GOP,” Goldman writes. Stepien, a man once referred to as “the next Karl Rove,” will assist with “sales and strategy on its over contact products.”
FLS has its own Christie ties, having worked on the governor’s re-election campaign in 2013, which it was paid $61,000 for. However, Stepien isn’t working on any Christie-related projects.
“FLS Connect is excited to have Bill Stepien join our team,” Sheila Berkley, president of the company, told Politico in a statement. “His extensive national experience and knowledge will be an asset to our clients and our company.”
But amidst the cause for celebration, a slew of new documents released Monday were made public as part of an investigation into the apparent political motivation behind America’s most infamous traffic jam, the Associated Press reports. Stepien is currently trying to fight a subpoena by pleading the Fifth Amendment, exercising his constitutional right against self-incrimination. Bridget Kelly, a former Christie aide who was also fired, is also taking this route of silence.
In one of the emails, Stephien is told about a letter of complaint on the fourth full day of lane closures by Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee at the bridge agency. After being forwarded the letter from Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, Stepien replied, “Thanks,” indicating his acknowledgement of the situation.
Another email shows Stepien commending Baroni on his story to a legislative panel that the lane closures were part of a traffic study, and not deliberately caused. “I know it’s not a fun topic… but you did great,” Stepien wrote in an email from November, a few weeks after Christie won re-election.
Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, maintains the former aide did nothing wrong, and that the emails are “the committee’s desperate attempt to paint Mr. Stephein as a central figure in the lane closure controversy.” Marino said last week that the committee investigating Stepien had no evidence of his partaking in the lane closures, and therefore had no evidence for its subpoena.
The U.S. attorney’s office is also investigating the lane closings, as well as accusations claiming that Christie’s administration threatened to withhold aid to Hoboken, N.J., which was badly damaged in Superstorm Sandy unless the mayor favored a redevelopment project.