By David Madden and Cleve Bryan
NEW YORK, N.Y. (CBS) — New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s contention that he knew nothing of the “Bridgegate” scandal prior to its becoming public has been borne out by a ten-week investigation ordered by the governor and paid for with $1 million in tax money.
This morning, New York lawyer Randy Mastro went to great lengths to stress the independence of the work done by his team of five former federal prosecutors.
Their report pins the blame for restricting access to the George Washington Bridge last fall (see related stories) directly on former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein and fired Christie aide Bridget Kelly.
“Governor Christie had no knowledge beforehand of this George Washington Bridge realignment idea, and he played no role whatsoever in that decision or the implementation of it,” Mastro reiterated today.
READ THE REPORT (.pdf format)
Several people named in connection with the scheme, including Kelly and Wildstein, did not cooperate in Mastro’s probe, but every current staffer in Christie’s office did, including the governor himself.
The report recommends structural changes in the governor’s office, including appointment of an ombudsman and chief ethics officer. This report comes out ahead of any results from independent investigations by federal prosecutors and a special committee of state lawmakers.
As CBS 3 reporter Cleve Bryan reports, top Democrats in the New Jersey legislature don’t think too highly of the Governor’s internal review of the Fort Lee lane closures.
“I describe this as the million-dollar report to prove that the dog really ate my homework,” State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D) said.
The report released Thursday by a law-firm Christie selected finds the Governor had no part in ordering the traffic jam in Fort Lee or helping to cover it up. It details how Port Authority appointee David Wildstein and former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly allegedly concocted the whole scheme.
“Bridget Kelly lied to her colleagues and even reached out to a subordinate, and asked them to destroy a potentially incriminating document,” Mastro said.
The report says the traffic jam was directed at punishing Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, but for no clear reason since he and Governor Christie were on good terms.
“So they take two people that they themselves were responsible for providing employment and they try to make them out as being these kind of crazy people who were out there doing crazy things,” Weinberg said.
The report also talks about Christie’s former campaign manager Bill Stepien having a personal relationship with Bridget Kelly, but it concludes he only knew about some of what was really happening and wasn’t involved.
The report does say David Wildstein mentioned the lane closures to the Governor at a September 11th event while the traffic scandal was in full motion, but it assures that the Governor doesn’t recall the conversation.
Neither Wildstein, Kelly nor Stepien were interviewed for the report.
“Really we want to find out who knew what and when they knew it and the evidence will take us there eventually,” Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D) said.
The closure of lanes near the George Washington Bridge last September caused four days of massive gridlock in the community of Fort Lee, NJ. It has become a major scandal for Christie, a possible 2016 Republican presidential contender.