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Live updates: The Christie bridge scandal

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is holding a news conference on Thursday to address revelations that a senior aide and two top political appointees forced days of traffic jams as apparent political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.

The scandal is casting a cloud over the 2016 White House hopeful’s effort to cast himself as presidential and above the political fray.

After the news conference, leaders of the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly are holding a legislative hearing on the scandal.

Check here for the latest updates.

Hearing is over

The hearing has ended, with Chairman Wisniewski saying Wildstein remained under subpoena and could be called back to testify.

Lawmakers hold Wildstein in contempt

The transportation committee just voted to hold Wildstein in contempt for refusing to answer questions.

The former Port Authority official repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment, even to basic factual questions with little bearing on his role in the lane closures in Fort Lee.

Contempt is a misdemeanor crime in New Jersey.

Democrats use hearing to air criticisms

As the hearing unfolded, Wisniewski and other assembly Democrats pressed Wildstein, who remained mute, about his alleged actions, mixing their own observations with citations of the recently uncovered e-mail documents, and often reading parts of those exchanges aloud.

Wildstein was also frequently asked about his relationship and communications with Bill Baroni. Baroni, like Wildstein, is a well-connected Christie ally and former Port Authority official. Both men resigned in December.

Boehner: Christie still 2016 contender

White House has no comment on Christie

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday afternoon that President Obama probably did not have time to watch Gov. Chris Christie’s nearly two-hour news conference, and he offered no comment on the situation unfolding in New Jersey.

“I haven’t spoken to him about the situation,” Carney, who was attending the funeral of a family friend during Christie’s remarks, said during his daily briefing, which began shortly after the governor finished speaking. “It sounds like a state matter to me.” On the federal probe into the matter, Carney referred questions to the Justice Department.

Obama has developed a mutually beneficial relationship with Christie. The two toured damaged areas of the coastline after Hurricane Sandy in fall 2012, prompting Republicans to criticize Christie for appearing with the presidents weeks before the election. Obama returned to the area early last year to hail the recovery effort and appeared again with Christie on the boardwalk.

CNN and MSNBC all over Christie story

According to BuzzFeed’s Dorsey Shaw, here’s the amount of time each outlet spent on covering Christie’s bridge controversy before Christie’s news conference:

1. MSNBC — 273 minutes

2. CNN — 272 minutes

3. Fox News — 38 minutes

4. Al Jazeera America — 30 minutes

Wildstein at odds with 'full disclosure'

Even after Wildstein asserted his right to claim Fifth Amendment protections, Wisniewski plowed forward with questions. Wildstein’s responses each time were flatly stated and nearly identical — under the advice of his attorney, he would not answer.

“Same answer,” he said, over and over, as assembly Democrats on the panel shook their heads in annoyance.

Wildstein’s decision is a breaking point in the state legislature’s investigation. With Wildstein — per the e-mails an alleged direct participant in the Fort Lee closure — refusing to talk, Christie’s promise to have full disclosure of his administration’s involvement has been challenged.

Lawyer questions panel's authority

Wildstein, sitting in the front row of the hearing room aside his attorney, Alan Zegas, smiled as he waited and did not respond to questions from the media.

Promptly at 1 p.m., the hearing began, and Zegas made an opening statement in which he continued to ask whether the committee had the “authority” to proceed, even in light of a state superior court judge’s ruling.

Wisniewski quickly pushed back against Wildstein’s argument, and said the committee was “authorized” and would press Wildstein as it pursued its inquiry into how the Port Authority was involved with the bridge closure.

Wildstein refuses to answer questions

In spite of his attorney’s protests to the committee, Wildstein gave his oath at 1:11 p.m. EST. But a minute later, he announced that he would refuse to answer further questions, citing constitutional protections.

Audible groans from onlookers were immediate. Chairman Wisniewski said Wildstein’s decision could result in his being held in contempt for not following the subpoena’s orders.

Asked where he worked most recently, Wildstein essentially pleaded the Fifth Amendment, saying he’s exercising his right to remain silent.

Wisniewski said the committee would press on, despite Wildstein’s refusal to answer questions, and it did.

“We will continue with the questioning,” Wisniewski said.

Wildstein then repeated his response several more times — including when asked very basic factual questions — eventually truncating his answer to “same answer.”

N.J. Democrat mocks Christie

New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) also said Bridget Kelly’s departure is far from enough, and that she does not believe that Christie has shared everything he knows with the public.

“The governor’s Port Authority appointees resign, he fires his deputy chief of staff, and his campaign manager is let go, but we’re supposed to say, ‘Okay, you didn’t know.’ I don’t believe it,” she said. “We need more context about Kelly’s e-mail. I think we much more investigation, and the governor should redact the e-mails and have everyone involved come here and testify.

“Governor Christie has created an atmosphere that enables people to do these kind of things,” she added. “I’ve experienced it myself, most famously when he asked people to ‘take the bat out’ on me. If you visit my office now, I have a couple baseball bats hanging in my office.

“Gee, he never thought to look into this and missed it all?” Weinberg said, mockingly. “I’m sorry, but after four months, well, it’s clear Mister Hands-On isn’t hands-on at all.”

Wildstein arrives at hearing, hearing underway

Here’s the video:

1 hour, 48 minutes

The news conference is over, and that’s how long it lasted.

It is certainly one of the longest political press conferences in memory.

Wildstein shows up for hearing

Across the street from Christie’s office, at the state legislature’s annex, the investigations continued Thursday afternoon in a hearing room crammed with more than 20 television cameras and a crowd of photographers. As bulbs flashed in the warm  fourth-floor room, where every seat in the audience area was occupied, David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York & New Jersey official connected to the controversy, took his seat before the state assembly’s transportation committee shortly before 1 p.m.

As of 12:30 p.m., Wildstein had not appeared, and legislators were growing concerned that he would not show. Earlier in the day, Wildstein’s attorney, Alan Zegas, had argued that his client did not need to heed the committee’s subpoena, and claimed that the subpoena was specifically focused on tolling issues, and did not compel Wildstein  to comment on the bridge closure.

But state lawmakers had remained optimistic that Wildstein would eventually arrive. Earlier Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled that the assembly committee, chaired by Democrat Assemblyman John Wisniewski, has jurisdiction and that the subpoena was broad enough to engage Wildstein on questions related to his involvement in the operation of the GW bridge.

This post has been updated.

Christie responds to Sokolich snub

A reporter informed Christie that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich isn’t interested in meeting with him, and Christie took it in stride.

Christie previously said he would go to Fort Lee to apologize to Sokolich and the people there. Sokolich reportedly said the meeting was “premature.”

“If he doesn’t want to meet with me, that’s his choice,” Christie said. ”I’m certainly not going to barge into his office.”

Christie scoffs at resignation question

Asked about the prospect, Christie bristled.

“That’s a crazy question, man,” he said. “I never gave any thought to that, nor would I.”

Great timeline of the bridge controversy

Christie, still talking

This news conference is now clocking in at more than one hour, 20 minutes.

Politico’s Glenn Thrush jokes:

Office posts YouTube of presser

Christie’s office, known for posting video of Christie and his jousts with journalists, appears only too happy to promote his remarks at this news conference.

His office has already posted 15 minutes worth of Christie’s remarks:

Wildstein to testify at hearing shortly

The hearing was scheduled for noon, but appears to be waiting to start until after Christie’s remarks.

Here’s the live feed, from NBC News:

More on ex-blogger David Wildstein

… and Christie’s relationship with him.

From the Bergen Record’s March 2012 profile:

For a decade, he was a faceless force in New Jersey politics, an Internet blogger who delivered scoops while keeping his identity a closely guarded secret.

Now, David Wildstein, formerly known by the pen name Wally Edge, is playing a key behind-the-scenes role in Governor Christie’s effort to get more control over the Port Authority, the bi-state transportation agency that has come under increased scrutiny since raising bridge and tunnel tolls in September.

The Port Authority, criticized as wasteful and dysfunctional, is the largest and most complex agency yet to be singled out by Christie as being in need of reform. And in Wildstein, an experienced political strategist who went to high school with the governor, the Christie administration may have found the perfect instrument to help shake things up, some say.

Longtime employees, however, privately describe a man intent on carrying out a political agenda rather than one built on reform or improving the region’s transportation system. They believe the appointment of Wildstein and dozens of others recommended by the governor — for jobs ranging from toll collector to deputy executive director — are evidence that political loyalty trumps merit.

To Christie, though, they are needed to bring about change. And Wildstein figures prominently in that effort.

“He is there in that job because he is well suited to the task of playing a role in reforming the Port Authority in accordance with the governor’s goals,” said Christie’s spokes­man, Michael Drewniak.

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