An internal investigation into “Bridgegate” and other allegations of abuse of power has found no evidence of wrongdoing by Gov. Chris Christie.
The 344 page report, assembled by law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher at the request of Gov. Christie, is based on “interviews with more than 70 witnesses and the review of more than 250,000 documents, including the personal texts and emails of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and their senior staffers, over the past two months.”
The key finding in the report is that David Wildstein of the Port Authority and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff, seem to have directed the lane closures. With regard to Gov. Christie, the report concludes he “did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes.” The reports authors add “Governor Christie’s account of these events rings true. It is corroborated by many
witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide.”
The report contains a description of Christie’s actions behind the scenes as the story came to his attention. It says he “raised his voice” and demanded staff come forward with whatever they knew about the scandal.
On December 13, 2013, the Governor convened a special meeting of his senior staff and also invited Drewniak. He stood the entire time and raised his voice. He told them he was concerned they were all suffering from “senioritis” following the election. He said the national attention was a double-edged sword: “The spotlight can turn to a searchlight real quick.” He mentioned a number of miscues but then focused on the George Washington Bridge lane realignment fiasco. He said words to the effect of: “This is a mess, and now I have to clean it up.” He demanded to know from each of them in that room whether they had any prior knowledge or involvement in the lane realignment. He said he was going to hold a press conference later that day to set the record straight. He told them to come forward with the truth that morning, to go tell O’Dowd or Charles McKenna, then the Governor’s Chief Counsel. “The confessionals are open,” he said. But Kelly did not come forward. To the contrary, when questioned for a second time by O’Dowd that morning, Kelly continued to deny any involvement. Later that morning, the Governor held his press conference, saying he had been “assured” by his senior staff and Stepien that they were not involved.
A few weeks later the media got hold of Bridget Kelly’s infamous emails which confirmed she knew in advance about the closures and that she seemed to have some political ulterior motive. The report describes Christie’s emotional reaction to the news.
That afternoon, on January 8, 2014, the Governor called together his top aides and advisors at Drumthwacket. It was an emotional session, in which the Governor, welling up with tears, expressed shock at the revelations, directed Kelly’s immediate firing for lying to him, and also decided to sever ties with Stepien.
The next morning, on January 9, 2014, the Governor held a press conference for nearly two hours in which he acknowledged this breach by some close to him, took responsibility for it happening on his watch, and answered the press’s questions. That same morning, Kelly texted her then-former staffer, Renna, admitting her transgression: “I’m sorry to tarnish IGA.”
The report also addresses accusations by Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie’s administration tried to work out a development deal in exchange for Sandy relief money. The report calls these allegations “demonstrably false.” Mayor Zimmer actually claimed she had three separate discussions during which she was pressured on the issue. The report walks through each of these in turn, finding no evidence to support Zimmer’s claims but some that refutes them. Here is the report’s conclusion (from the executive summary).
In sum, our investigation has concluded that Mayor Zimmer’s allegations are unsubstantiated and, in material respects, demonstrably false. Whatever subjective perceptions she may have do not match objective reality, as reflected in the hard evidence uncovered during our investigation. Moreover, her allegations are contradicted by contemporaneous documents, other witnesses’ accounts, and her own prior statements. Mayor Zimmer herself has called the sequence of events that she has alleged “unbelievable.” Based on our investigation, we would have to agree.
No report, certainly not one called for by Christie himself, is likely to put a damper on Democrat’s enthusiasm for this story. The New Jersey Star Ledger editorial board is outraged by it. The fixation on the left is so intense that even Bill Maher critiqued Rachel Maddow’s Bridgegate obsession saying, “It’s not watergate.”
But barring any future revelations by Wildstein or Kelly, the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher report certainly makes a credible case that Gov. Christie was not involved in the lane closures. It’s at least as credible as the claim that President Obama didn’t know about problems with the Obamacare website prior to launch. Hillary Clinton didn’t know about lax security at the Benghazi consulate prior to the attack. And Eric Holder didn’t know anything about the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal prior to one of our border control agents being killed with a gun we let cross the border. As “phony” scandals go, Bridgegate seems like a particularly thin reed.