An investigation launched by Gov. Chris Christie into shutting down lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September cleared the governor as expected, but it widened the circle of Christie allies involved in the politically inspired traffic scandal.
The report found that Christie's former campaign manager Bill Stepien and Bill Baroni, who Christie appointed to the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, both lied when asked whether they were aware of the lane closings that backed up cars and paralyzed the streets of Fort Lee, N.J. for several days.
The mammoth document paints a portrait of a governor’s office with structural flaws severe enough that the attorneys believe it must be cleaned up by an ethics czar and constituent advocate.
“Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” the attorneys wrote in summarizing their more than 900 page document, released publicly today and reviewed by Christie’s office in advance. “He does not recall becoming aware of the lane realignment during the period, but would not have considered a traffic issue memorable in any event.”
In a news conference today, lead attorney Randy Mastro said there was "not a shred of evidence" to implicate Christie.
He defended the integrity of the investigation despite the fact that it was created by Christie.
"We believe we have gotten to the truth," Mastro said.
The report also addresses an unrelated accusation that the Christie administration threatened to withhold Sandy relief funds from the mayor of Hoboken, N.J., until she green-lit a development project. The lawyers write that those “allegations are, in material respects, demonstrably false.”
As for the lane shutdown, the report lays the blame for the idea, execution and the days worth of crippling traffic it caused squarely on Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge and other transit links between New Jersey and New York.
Kelly and Wildstein had some sort of “ulterior motive” and “animosity” toward the mayor of Fort Lee, and orchestrated as payback the unannounced closing two of the three local access lanes at the Fort Lee entrance to the bridge. The attorneys said they didn’t find evidence supporting the public belief that the mayor was being punished for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
They also don’t definitely answer the question of whether an actual traffic study was conducted. But they write that studying Fort Lee’s dedicated access lanes was discussed by Wildstein as early as 2010 and “was Wildstein’s ‘idea,’ like so many other ‘crazy’ ones he’d had before that never got off the ground.”
The document, compiled from 70 interviews and a review of 250,000 pages of emails and other records, is sure to be painted as a whitewash by Christie’s detractors. The lawyers write that the governor’s account “rings true,” and that Christie became emotional and tearful upon learning he was betrayed by some of those closest to him.
The report shows Christie to have been prescient late last year as the bad publicity generated by the lane closures crept closer and closer to the governor’s inner circle.