-- Call it the tale of the texts.
An interim report from a panel investigating last year’s George Washington Bridge lane closures scandal said today there is “no conclusive evidence” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was “aware of the lane closures either in advance of their implementation or contemporaneously as they were occurring.”
But here's the catch: The report does not fully exonerate the possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate.
The biggest inconsistency in the report from previous sworn testimony found 12 text messages exchanged between Christie and a close aide, Regina Egea, during a day officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were testifying about the scandal last year two months after the lane closures. The report states Christie initiated the texts, possibly contradicting the governor who repeatedly said he had not paid much attention to the scandal as it unfolded last fall.
Team Christie greeted the report as an exoneration, while Democrats said it proves nothing.
The scandal erupted in January when e-mails between a Christie aide and a Christie ally at the Port Authority revealed two of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the world's busiest, were closed due to likely political motivation, possibly because the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee did not endorse Christie in his 2013 re-election bid. The gridlock paralyzed the New Jersey town for four days in September.
The content of the text messages is unknown, but Egea had previously testified earlier this year she only recalled exchanging one text message with Christie that day regarding the testimony and didn’t recall a reply from Christie.
It was a heated day of testimony where the officials accused the ringleader of the traffic scheme, former Port Authority official David Wildstein, of fabricating a traffic study to cover the politically motivated closures, calling his actions both “odd” and “illegal.” The report, released by the committee's special counsel, Reid Schar of the firm Jenner & Bloc, showed Christie sent Egea three texts, and Egea sent the governor nine during the six hours of testimony. Christie later told reporters he didn’t remember receiving any texts.
In her testimony, Egea said she had deleted the texts and in the report it states they asked the governor’s office “to produce any copies of these texts that may exist on Governor Christie’s personal mobile device.” The report states that in response the governor's office said they could not locate the text on either Christie or Egea’s phones and “Governor Christie deleted the messages at some unknown point."
Christie’s Democratic opponents are pouncing on the deletion of the text messages, as well as the lack of cooperation the committee received.
The report stresses it is far from final because they were not able to interview several key witnesses including Wildstein, and the other “principal actor” former Christie aide Bridget Ann Kelly.
"The Committee is also not in a position currently to conclude what Governor Christie himself knew about the lane closures or when and how his knowledge of these events developed,” the report states. “While there is evidence that the Governor was informed of the lane closures while they were in progress, the Committee cannot evaluate the reliability of this evidence as it has yet to hear from the witness — Wildstein — who has claimed to have contemporaneously told the Governor of the closures. It is important to note that additional evidence that could shed light on the open questions noted above may become available to the Committee in the future."
In a statement the Democratic National Committee blames Christie directly for the scandal.
“We know today what we knew almost a year ago: Chris Christie created the culture within his administration that led to Bridgegate,” DNC press secretary Michael Czin said. “Some of Christie’s closest aides and allies put public safety at risk, seemingly to exact petty political revenge, and in the aftermath, they lied about it. That, in itself, is inexcusable conduct coming from the administration of someone who wants to be President of the United States.”
That’s not how Christie allies are viewing the report. They say the investigative committee is only now “finally acknowledg(ing) what we reported nine months ago -- namely, that there is not a shred of evidence Governor Christie knew anything about the GWB lane realignment beforehand or that any current member of his staff was involved in that decision. Thus, the Committee's work has simply corroborated our comprehensive investigation.”
The statement from Christie’s attorney, Randy Mastro, adds with this inquiry over “the Governor and his office can now focus on doing what they do best -- serving the public interest."
The state committee says they will continue their investigation and there is also an ongoing federal investigation.