Transcript: Former Port Authority executive David Wildstein’s appearance before the NJ Assembly transportation committee on Jan. 9, 2014 – Part V

Part V: Partial transcript of the New Jersey Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities committee hearing on the George Washington Bridge lane closures. David Wildstein, who was appointed to the Port Authority by Gov. Chris Christie, was subpoenaed to testify on Jan. 9, 2014.

NJ Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D):
Could you speak again to why you’re advising your client to plead the Fifth at every step of the way on some of these basic questions when you supplied the documents?

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
Certainly, Vice Chair. The Fifth Amendment is one of the most sacrosanct rights any person has. We have sat by in the past several weeks and have heard allegations made against Mr. Wildstein that he has violated federal laws or violated state laws or that investigations are going to begin. Today, I understand that the Justice Department was also looking into matters relating to the George Washington Bridge. I’m not suggesting in any way and I don’t believe that Mr. Wildstein is guilty of anything. Yet at the same time, he has a right under both the federal and state constitutions to not give answers that could be used by a prosecutor were they to charge him – even if they were to charge him wrongly. So if his answer would furnish an element of proof in a prosecutor’s case, then a person in a position of Mr. Wildstein does not have an obligation to answer. It’s an extremely important right, and it’s important to him that it be asserted in this context, in this environment.

NJ Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D):
Thank you.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
And I’d just wrap up on that note is that what kind of perplexes me is that you provided 907 pages of documents that we’re asking questions on. It is not a mystery of where they came from and it is not a mystery of whose name is on them. And so it would seem to me that the privilege that you’re asserting have already been waived in providing the documents.

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
I would respectfully disagree with that, sir. The Fifth Amendment privilege applies to testimony. Testimony can be non-verbal but for the most part it’s testimony. The production of documents is something very different than the compulsion of testimony.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
Well, as two lawyers, we’ll agree to disagree on that…

Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D):
David Wildstein, there’s a cloud over your head now with some of these recent developments with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

I’ve known you for over 25 years and I always kind of viewed you as a student of government. You took your civic responsibilities very seriously during your tenure as a member of the town council of Livingston and later as the mayor. And I know you definitely loved politics even though we weren’t of the same persuasion.

And in a lot of ways, your work as a journalist was well-known in recent times but looking back at your work…in the state gave a lot of insight as far as government and politics in New Jersey.

This administration has kind of prided itself over the last four years as being very open, not wavering in terms of trying to provide information, and all of these representations on the record today, invoking the Fifth Amendment – kinds of goes against that openness.

It seems to me that silence is not golden here today, that it kind of exacerbates the perception among the public “Was there something more going on here? Was there political retribution taking place?”

And what I would suggest is don’t let David Wildstein be the fall guy on some of these issues that have cropped up in recent months. You deserve better. You have a reputation that precedes you today and I think you want to build on that reputation. And by being candid with this committee – all we’re looking for is some type of solutions and answers about making sure events like this don’t take place again in the future and policies at the Port Authority need to be tightened up and proper protocols put in place. That’s what it’s all about.

This is not against you personally. It’s about New Jersey and what we aspire to in terms of better government and more transparency.

And I know you have an attorney guiding you but I know you better than that, and I know that you’d want to make sure your name is well-respected and enhanced down the road and I would encourage you after you go over this with your attorney…that you come back to this committee, and hopefully you can do that sooner rather than later and give us the answers and the candor and the responses that we’re looking for in terms of trying to do right by the citizens of New Jersey.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
Mr. Zegas, Mr. Wildstein. Mr. Zegas, your client, Mr. Wildstein, has been given a code – a copy of the code of fair procedure?

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
Yes, sir.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
And you’re familiar with that – I’m sure you’ve reviewed that with your client. That code provides in part – and I’m quoting – “Any witness who refuses to answer any question decided by this committee to be proper and pertinent to the inquiry shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.” The law further states that “no such witness shall be excused from answering any such question on the ground that answering that question might or would incriminate him.”

Before the committee acts on that issue, do you have any comment?

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
Yes. I would submit that the rules that the chair just cited are at variance with the United States and New Jersey constitutions, and that to impose a penalty for the exercise of a constitutional right flies in the face of the right that has been granted, that being the right to remain silence at times like these. So I don’t think that it would be appropriate for this committee to find that Mr. Wildstein by asserting his constitutional rights has thereby committed a crime. What a horrible message that would send.

Motion that the questions posed by the committee to Mr. David Wildstein are proper and pertinent to the inquiry:
Brian E. Rumpf (R-9) – yes
John F. Amodeo (R-2) – yes
Scott Rumana (R-40) – yes
David Wolfe (R-10) – yes
Celeste Riley (D-3) – yes
Ruben Ramos (D-33) – yes
Gordon Johnson (D-37) – yes
Thomas Giblin (D-34) – yes
Upendra Chivukula (D-17) – yes
Marlene Caride (D-36) – yes
Linda Stender (D-22) – yes
John Wisniewski (D-19) – yes

Motion that Mr. David Wildstein’s refusal to answer the proper and pertinent questions asked by the committee places him in contempt of the committee, which constitutes a misdemeanor:

Brian E. Rumpf (R-9) – yes
John F. Amodeo (R-2) – yes
Scott Rumana (R-40) – yes
David Wolfe (R-10) – yes
Celeste Riley (D-3) – yes
Ruben Ramos (D-33) – yes
Gordon Johnson (D-37) – yes
Thomas Giblin (D-34) – yes
Upendra Chivukula (D-17) – yes
Marlene Caride (D-36) – yes
Linda Stender (D-22) – yes
John Wisniewski (D-19) – yes

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
…Your client remains under subpoena by this committee, and we would expect upon due notice that he would return to this committee to answer questions and at the minimum provide us the information we need from those redacted documents. Do you agree?

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
I understand what you’re saying and I would say yes subject to the objection that I expressed at the outset of these proceedings that being that the subpoena issued by the committee is without valid authority. I’m not waiving –

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
I understand that you’re not waiving any rights…Are you telling me that if we call your client to come back to verify the documents that have been submitted at some future dates that you’re refusing to come?

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
No, not at all.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
Just want to make sure we’re clear on that. I understand that you preserve all your legal remedies that you think you may have and that’s your role as Mr. Wildstein’s attorney, and we preserve all the legal remedies that we have, that’s our role as the committee. Are we clear?

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
We are and I appreciate your expression.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
I just want to say that many of the questions that this committee seeks answer to, in my opinion and in the opinion of many individuals are simple factual questions and have impact whatsoever on any potential criminal liability.

Clearly, your client acknowledges that these documents were produced because you produced them on his behalf. And so we know that these documents come from your client and that since we asked your client to produce documents from his email accounts and text messages that where he’s mentioned, these are things he said and done.

In that respect, many of the things that we’re asking are to corroborate what we’ve seen and yet you’ve expressed your client’s right to not answer those questions. I think that’s unacceptable.

Obviously we both have a disagreement from that but I think from the chair I think answering simple questions about is this your email, where did you work, what was your job really runs beyond the protection of your client from self-incrimination.

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
We disagree on that but I would also note that all of the materials referenced today came from me as counsel for Mr. Wildstein. And those documents, I believe, shed the light that you’re asking to be shed on this matter. So there’s nothing improperly withheld. He cooperated and I believe that he had no obligation to do what he had done with respect to the documents. Nevertheless, you find yourself in the position today where you know more than when you last convened, and I don’t think there could be any question about that.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
I don’t disagree that we know more. I think one of the most difficult issue that we confront in this entire inquiry is as soon as we know more, we have more questions.

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
I understand that.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
And so we have questions about the Aug. 13th email exchange because clearly there had to be some meeting, communication, or dialogue before that that we’re not being permitted to receive answers to.

There was text messages provided to us early in August that talked about a meeting between the governor and former Attorney General [David] Samson, who’s now the chair of the Port Authority. That was responsive to a request to provide documents related to this bridge lane closure episode and yet we’re not allowed to ask what that meeting was about, who was in attendance, what was intended in providing it to us. And so there are interesting questions raised by who in the governor’s office knew about the plan to close the lanes or to divert the lanes, who was involved, what did they know, when did they know it, and just as equally who was involved, what did they know, when did they know it when the effort was made to craft an explanation for the lane closures. So those documents only tell part of the story.

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
Well, if the Attorneys General for New Jersey, New York, and the United States were all to agree to cloak Mr. Wildstein with an immunity, I think you’d find yourselves in a far different position with respect to information he could provide.

NJ Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D):
That’s your job. [Laughter] We just want answers to our questions.

Alan Zegas, attorney representing David Wildstein:
Understood. I’m suggesting a way you can get there.

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