John DiStaso's Granite Status: NHGOP chair stands by top party staffer following mention in 'Bridgegate' report
By John DiStaso, Senior Political Reporter
MONDAY, JAN. 13: MOWERS, CHRISTIE AND THE MAYOR. The New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman stood by her recently-hired 24-year-old party executive director Monday after he was named as a player in the prologue to the "Bridgegate" scandal plaguing his old boss, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Chair Jennifer Horn said top party staffer Matt Mowers "has been a tremendous addition to our team" and his job is not at risk after the Wall Street Journal identified him Sunday as the Christie campaign staffer who initially "approached" Fort Lee, N.J., mayor Mark Sokolich "indicating an endorsement would be welcome."
But the New Hampshire Democratic Party accused Mowers and the state GOP of "dodging questions" and asked whether he would use New Jersey-style "dirty tricks" in his role in the Granite State.
No reports to date have implicated Mowers in the George Washington Bridge approach lane closure scandal that cost a top Christie staffer her job. Christie acknowledged last week that top staffers ordered the lanes closed, tying up traffic in Fort Lee for four days last September, in retribution for Democrat Sokolich not backing Christie.
The Journal cited "a person familiar with the conversations" in identifying Mowers as the person who initially sought the backing from Sokolich.
Mowers at the time, last spring, was the regional political director of Christie's reelection campaign. He had previously served in Christie's governor's office as a regional director of intergovernmental relations and legislative affairs. In both roles, Fort Lee was part of the Bergen County region he covered.
In the governor's office role, one of Mowers' superiors was Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff fired by Christie last week as the scandal erupted. Prior to being promoted to that position, Kelly was statewide governmental affairs director in Christie's governor's office and, according to a New Hampshire source close to Mowers, during 2011 and for about a year, Mowers reported directly to Kelly.
Shortly after Christie won reelection last November, Mowers was named as the top staffer of the New Hampshire GOP. At the time, party officials said Mowers' prior role with Christie would not give Christie an unfair advantage should the governor run for President in 2016 and should Mowers still be in that position during the presidential campaign.
And Monday, Horn gave Mowers a vote of confidence, saying Mowers, "is going to continue to make a valuable contribution to our party and help us defeat the Democrats in November and restore fiscal responsibility to our government."
According to NorthJersey.com, the web site of The Record newspaper, Sokolich confirmed Monday that someone did float the idea of endorsing Christie to him during the New Jersey governor's campaign.
"It got as close as, 'Is this something you'd consider?'" the mayor reportedly said, and then reportedly refused to answer more questions.
Sokolich did not identify Mowers and would not disclose who made the overture. He told NorthJersey.com that he was never "directly" asked to endorse Christie.
Mowers did not return the Granite Status' messages seeking comment.
A top Democratic state lawmaker in New Jersey said Monday he would begin to issue subpoenas as part of a committee investigation into the bridge approach lane closures.
It is unclear if Mowers will be called and whether he has retained an attorney.
New Hampshire GOP chair Horn would not address whether Mowers had approached Sokolich regarding a Christie endorsement. Nor would she say what she knows about his role in the matter.
She did say, "I would expect that in the role that he had, he would be seeking support for his candidate from all of the leaders in the region he covered."
A New Hampshire source close to Mowers reiterated that in his role as regional director, Mowers did ask officials in region he covered, of both political parties, to support Christie.
"He had conversations with hundreds of officials seeking support, because that was the job of a campaign operative," the source said. "He was doing his job."
The source also declined to comment on whether Sokolich was among those "hundreds of officials" approached by Mowers.
In the spring and summer of 2012, Mowers often posted on Twitter about endorsements Republican Christie had received, including from Democrats in the northern New Jersey area, such as the communities of River Vale and Secaucus and, at least one labor union.
Horn said that even if it is true that Mowers did discuss a possible endorsement of Christie with Sokolich, it would have no effect on his job as the top party staffer.
The state Democratic Party, meanwhile, said, "The NHGOP and Matt Mowers can't hide from the people of New Hampshire forever. Eventually, they will have to come clean about what role Mowers played in the scheme that put people's safety at risk to exact political revenge.
"Matt Mowers spent years working under now-disgraced aides of Chris Christie, and we are all left to wonder what dirty tricks they taught him and what plans he has to use them in New Hampshire," said NHDP spokesman Harrell Kirstein. "Granite Staters deserve to know about Mowers' role in Christie's growing bridge scandal.
"He and the NHGOP leadership should come clean and answer some basic questions for the people of New Hampshire."
Horn responded that the Democrats were attacking Mowers to "distract from the fact that Jeanne Shaheen lied to New Hampshire about the disastrous consequences of ObamaCare. They will do and say anything to avoid a discussion about how Shaheen's deciding vote for ObamaCare forced thousands of New Hampshire families to lose their health insurance and give up their doctors."
(Earlier Granite Status reports are available elsewhere on this page or by clicking on "Granite Status" above)