NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced the resignation of another top appointee on Friday, amid a growing controversy over the closure of several access lanes to the George Washington Bridge that Democrats are calling political payback.
The latest resignation came in the same week a Democratic group with ties to Hillary Clinton launched a social media campaign attacking Christie over the bridge flap in what could be seen as an early skirmish between the two likely contenders in the 2016 presidential race.
It also came a week after long-time Christie ally, David Wildstein admitted ordering the lane closures and announced his resignation from the Port Authority.
At a press conference in Trenton, Christie said he had accepted the resignation of Bill Baroni, the Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the bi-state agency that oversees the region’s transportation facilities. His departure after four years “was nothing I hadn’t planned,” the governor added.
Christie again denied any involvement in the lane closure controversy that has become known in New Jersey as “Bridgegate.”
The pro-Clinton group, Correct the Record, accused Christie of not coming clean about his knowledge of the lane shutdowns over four days in September.
The decision to block off two of three local access ramps to the George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey and New York City, created traffic jams in Fort Lee and angered commuters.
Democrats accused Christie’s Republican supporters at the Port Authority of closing the lanes as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who had not endorsed Christie’s re-election efforts.
At a hearing on Monday, top Port Authority officials said the lane shutdowns were enacted during a controversial last-minute traffic study that had been called by Wildstein.
Democrats in both states had been calling for Baroni’s resignation.
“The hearings on Bridgegate are spotlighting serious wrongdoing by key members of the Christie administration. I expect the people and materials recently subpoenaed to tell us more about what happened and why,” New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chairman John Currie said in a statement.
New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday said they were expanding the probe and issued seven more subpoenas in the case. Officials at the Port Authority, including Baroni and Wildstein, have one week to turn over documents and emails related to the closures.
Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson