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New Jersey Gov. Christie appointee quits amid probe of bridge traffic jam

Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L) walk on the boardwalk at Point Pleasant in New Jersey, May 28, 2013. Obama and Christie teamed up again to tour areas damaged by last year's Hurricane Sandy, giving a boost to a Democratic president enmeshed in scandals at home. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, 6:21 p.m.
 

TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie announced the resignation on Friday of one of his top appointees amid an escalating probe into whether Christie loyalists deliberately caused traffic jams at a bridge into New York City in an act of political retribution. The governor denied the lane closings were politically motivated.

The resignation of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey deputy executive director Bill Baroni occurs a day after a state lawmaker issued seven subpoenas to Baroni and other agency officials and the Democratic National Committee tried to link the controversy to Christie, a potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate.

Christie, who is shuffling some staff positions as he begins his second term, painted Baroni's departure from a plum appointment as an expected move, though he acknowledged the questions about a bridge delay cause a distraction.

“Sen. Baroni offered his resignation and I accepted it, but this wasn't something I hadn't planned already,” the governor said.

Baroni is a former Republican state senator and insider who was state chairman of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and has been Christie's top deputy at the bistate agency for four years.

The new deputy executive director, Deborah Gramiccioni, has a long history of working with Christie, both in the U.S. Attorney's Office and in his administration. She also worked in the Justice Department in Washington.

The issue at play involves the George Washington Bridge, one of the world's most heavily traveled spans. The town on the New Jersey side of the bridge is Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor did not endorse Christie in his re-election campaign last month. While Christie is a Republican, his campaign focused heavily on bipartisan support to bolster his image as a pragmatic executive who will work with his political opponents when he needs to.

On Sept. 9, two of the three local-access lanes from Fort Lee to the bridge's upper level were closed without warning. Officials at the Port Authority, which operates the bridge, said the closures were for a traffic pattern study.

Christie said on Friday that he believes that version of events.

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