NJ Legislative Panel Finds No Proof Christie Ordered Bridge Closure
Credit: Gage Skidmore
December 5, 2014

Well, New Jersey legislators didn't find a smoking gun. And Christie was famously paranoid about committing himself to text, email or cell calls (he learned from his experience as U.S. Attorney), so there you go. But I know enough about political staffs that I can repeat: It's extremely unlikely that Christie staffers did this without his knowledge or approval.

For one thing, your boss wants to know what you're working on. You have to account for your time, and explain why other things aren't getting done. So I'm comfortable in calling bullshit on the idea that Christie didn't know. Of course he did.

For another, campaigns are built around plausible deniability. Christie would be careful to speak only to campaign manager Bill Stepien, who would pass orders onto the staff. But staffers certainly know that the campaign manager speaks for the boss.

The investigation is saying it found no proof, which is completely different from exoneration. But that's how Christie will spin it:

A report summarizing a yearlong investigation by the legislative panel examining the George Washington Bridge lane closures found no evidence of Governor Christie’s involvement but concluded that two of his allies acted “with perceived impunity” when they gridlocked Fort Lee’s streets apparently for political reasons.

The committee’s 136-page report, drawing off sworn testimony, private interviews and thousands of subpoenaed documents, also highlights the unsuccessful efforts by a now-shuttered arm of Christie’s office to court the Fort Lee mayor’s endorsement, finding that the closures were “motivated in part by political considerations.”

The report states there is “no conclusive evidence” as to whether the governor “was or was not” aware of the lane closures or involved in directing them. But it catalogs several unanswered questions surrounding the scandal and cites a lack of cooperation from several key players who invoked their Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

The governor’s office released a statement late Thursday in response to the report from the attorney it hired to conduct its own investigation.

“The committee has finally acknowledged 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,” attorney Randy Mastro said. “Thus, the committee’s work has simply corroborated our comprehensive investigation. And with this inquiry behind it, the governor and his office can now focus on doing what they do best — serving the public interest.”

While the report does not contain any conclusive findings about Christie’s involvement, it puts a spotlight once again on a scandal that the administration has tried to move beyond. And it comes as Christie considers whether to run for president, a decision he has said he will make early next year. It also comes as the U.S. Attorney’s Office continues a criminal investigation into the lane closures.

Like the report commissioned by Christie’s office, it found that the “principal actors” in the scandal were former Port Authority executive David Wildstein and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. But it also found that Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien shared some responsibility because they were aware of the lane closures as they were happening and were aware of the public safety consequences.

Even if Kelly and Wildstein acted alone, the report states, “they did so with perceived impunity and in the environment, both in the [governor’s office] and the Port Authority, in which they felt empowered to act as they did, with little regard for public safety risks or the steadily mounting public frustrations.”

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