The executive director of the New Hampshire Republican Party testified on Tuesday before a legislative committee in New Jersey investigating lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that created a political maelstrom for Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
Matt Mowers, a former Christie aide, said he was “dumbfounded and disappointed” by the lane closures, and attributed them to the actions of “a few rogue individuals.”
“I can’t comprehend why anyone would have committed these acts. It just doesn’t make sense to me,” he said in regard to the lane closures that created gridlock for the community of Fort Lee, N.J., whose Democratic mayor refused to endorse Christie in his 2012 bid for reelection.
Mowers started as a staffer in Christie’s administration in 2010, working in the office of intergovernmental affairs. He served as a liaison between the governor’s office and elected officials in more than 180 communities.
In April 2013, he left the administration to join Christie’s reelection campaign staff, and took the job in New Hampshire after Christie’s landslide reelection in November.
Mowers was previously subpoenaed in February to provide documents, and voluntarily met with legislative committee lawyers in March. As the Christie staffer who sought an endorsement from Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich, Mowers has been targeted in the investigation, although he has never been accused of direct involvement in the lane closures.
“I was not involved in, nor did I have any prior knowledge of, the decision to realign the lanes on the George Washington Bridge,” he told New Jersey lawmakers in his opening statement. “This is simply unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.”
Mowers said he saw no indication of possible retribution when he informed senior Christie aides that Sokolich would not be offering an endorsement.
“Mayor Sokolich was candid and told me in no uncertain terms that he could not endorse the governor back in the spring of 2013,” Mowers said. “At that point, I did not view an endorsement as a possibility. Upon passing this information to others, no one I spoke with seemed overly interested or concerned at the time.”
One of Christie’s top aides was fired over the scandal, and another was forced to resign. Nearly 20 witnesses have been called so far to testify as the New Jersey state legislature investigates what has come to be known as “Bridgegate.” Mowers is the fifth person to testify before the Joint Investigative Committee.
Much of the questioning of Mowers by Democratic members of the committee centered on the timing of emails and conversations regarding endorsements, with Democrats suggesting that Mowers and others were engaged in campaign activities while on the governor’s office payroll.
Mowers said if campaign-related issues came up with municipal officials while he was working in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, it was because those officials raised the issues in conversation.
“My directives (at the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs) were clear — to serve all New Jersey citizens without regard to political, economic or social status,” Mowers said.
Mowers, 24, is one of two former Christie staffers now in prominent positions in New Hampshire GOP politics, the other being former Christie deputy communications director Colin Reed, who has signed on as campaign manager for senatorial candidate Scott Brown. Reed has also been subpoenaed in the Bridgegate investigation.