By David Cruz
Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd is the highest-ranking Christie administration official to testify before the joint committee, but a blockbuster revelation befitting O’Dowd’s stature was not forthcoming today.
“I would like to start my appearance today by making very clear to the committee that I had no prior knowledge of or played no role in the decision to close the lanes at the bridge last September,” said O’Dowd.
For the first two hours of today’s hearing, chairman John Wisniewski dug deep into the minutiae of the Gibson Dunne report, citing timelines and conversations taken directly from its pages and asking O’Dowd questions about its summaries.
“So let me be clear, so you, the governor and Mike Drewniak are talking in your office and at that meeting on December 2, Mike Drewniak says to you and the governor that Wildstein made a mention about the lane closures. Is that correct?,” said Wisniewski.
“Mike Drewniak indicated to the governor that he heard from Wildstein that Wildstein is maintaining that he spoke to you, said something to you about the lane closures while he saw you at the 9/11 ceremony,” said O’Dowd.
Wisniewski’s repeated questions about this and other meetings prompted O’Dowd’s attorney to object several times.
“Objection, co-chairman, he’s answered this question directly three or four times,” said Paul Zoubek, O’Dowd’s attorney.
“Counsel, I think his answers can speak for themselves, but if we’re going to have an objection every time there’s a question asked. There’s not a jury here. Consider this a bench trial,” said Wisniewski.
“But it is clear, as well, co-chairman that there are other proceedings underway here and it’s absolutely vitally important that the record is clear here and all I’m trying to do is assist the committee in a clear record,” said Zoubek.
The most curious presence in the room was former Christie political consultant Bill Stepien, whose refusal to testify or turn over documents to the committee led to a court battle, which Stepien won. Today, he was just another member of the audience. Or not.
As for Republicans, their participation was again, limited. They have tried to focus the committee on proposed reforms at the Port Authority.
“Are there any things that you think that we need to – or you would like to see changed at the Port Authority?,” said Asw. Holly Schepisi.
“It’s not a question that I’ve focused a great deal on. I know that, as I understand it, generally, there’s recommendations in this report that I have not read,” said O’Dowd.
What may ultimately distinguish O’Dowd’s testimony today is what he didn’t do, that is continue the story line that painted Bridget Kelly – the alleged trigger of the lane closures – as paranoid, emotional and unstable.
“Bridget Kelly is someone that I had worked with and known for four years, someone who I thought very highly of, hard-working, energetic, loyal, someone who I believed and trusted,” said O’Dowd.
O’Dowd’s appearance today did nothing to sidetrack what legislator’s expect will be a smooth confirmation for O’Dowd, whose nomination as state Attorney General has been on hold since December.