A senior New Jersey Congressman is calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the state's Republican governor, Chris Christie, after it was revealed last week that he and his top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey disclosed private travel records of a U.S. senator in an apparent effort to smear him. News that the disclosures may have violated state privacy law and Port Authority policy was first reported Thursday by International Business Times.
In his letter, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, a Democrat, requests "an immediate investigation of these breaches of privacy, and possible criminal access and use of data." Pallone says that because New Jersey's attorney general is appointed by Christie and has not pursued any investigation into the matter, he is asking for federal intervention to guarantee "an independent review."
"The use of this data seems to go well beyond any overarching general use of statistical data for analytical purposes, and rather seems to be specific examination of the E-ZPass usage of individual drivers," Pallone wrote. "Such actions violate New Jersey law and are a breach of the public trust...It is our duty as public servants to protect the public trust. These incidents seem to demonstrate the exact opposite, showing a remarkable abuse of power and violation of privacy."
At a 2012 Senate hearing, Christie's top Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, disclosed private E-ZPass records of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., in an attempt to deflect Lautenberg's questions about a Port Authority toll hike. A Senate source told IBTimes that Lautenberg's E-ZPass records were also disclosed to a reporter before the hearing in an effort to smear the lawmaker. (Lautenberg died of viral pneumonia on June 13, 2013.)
Days after the hearing, Christie himself disclosed more details of Lautenberg's E-ZPass records at a press conference. A year later, Baroni separately disclosed details of E-ZPass data about the constituents of state lawmakers who were interrogating him during a hearing about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which links New Jersey and New York City.
IBTimes requested comment about Pallone's letter from Christie, Baroni and the Port Authority. They did not respond to the requests.
New Jersey and New York laws prohibit E-ZPass records from being obtained or disclosed without a subpoena or court order. Additionally, in a recent letter rejecting an open records request for Lautenberg's E-ZPass records, the Port Authority cited an exemption for private records as grounds for blocking the release of the documents.
While the E-ZPass system has been traditionally considered apolitical, the Christie administration has political ties to current and former E-ZPass officials who could have access to private travel data.
According to records first obtained by the Bergen Record, Christie officials recommended David Haytaian for his Port Authority job as a manager of an E-ZPass customer service call center. Haytaian, who took the job in 2010, is the son of former New Jersey Republican Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian, who has been called a mentor to Baroni and who ran against Lautenberg for the U.S. Senate seat in 1994. Additionally, then-E-ZPass executive director James Crawford served in 2009 on Christie's transition team and interviewed for the job of New Jersey Secretary of Transportation, according to trade publication Toll Roads News. Crawford retired in 2010.