- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

The lawyers tapped by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to investigate the George Washington Bridge scandal released their findings Thursday, saying there is no evidence that the Republican governor knew about or had a hand in the lane closures that snarled local traffic for days.

Randy M. Mastro, the lawyer leading the investigation, rolled out the 344-page report at a news conference and said it concluded that Mr. Christie’s then-Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly was the only person in the governor’s inner circle to know about the plan, which he said was driven by David Wildstein, a Port Authority official.

Mr. Wildstein resigned last year, and Ms. Kelly was fired in the wake of the scandal.

SEE ALSO: DEACE: Christie, Cruz and Paul — CPAC’s distinct trio

“This is a vindication of Gov. Christie in that we found what he has been saying all along is true,” Mr. Mastro, of the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, told reporters. “He had no prior knowledge of this lane realignment idea and no role whatsoever in the decision or the implementation of it.”

However, Democrats quickly dismissed the report as incomplete and/or accused Mr. Mastro of having conflicts of interest.

Attorney Randy Mastro holds up a copy of his report during a news conference Thursday, March 27, 2014, in New York.  Mastro, with the law firm hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said Thursday that the governor was not involved in a plot to create gridlock near a major bridge as part of a political retribution scheme. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Attorney Randy Mastro holds up a copy of his report during a ... more >

Mr. Christie has been operating under a cloud since a cache of emails was released in January that suggested his administration orchestrated the September traffic jams in Fort Lee, causing backups on the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge, in order to exact political payback against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing his re-election bid.

The new report dismissed the non-endorsement payback theory, saying there is no evidence of that. But investigators were unable to determine the motive.

“Whatever motivated Wildstein and Kelly to act as they did, it was not at the behest of Governor Christie, who knew nothing about it,” the taxpayer-funded report said.

It also said, “The common speculation that this was an act of political retaliation because Mayor Sokolich failed to endorse the Governor for re-election is not established by the evidence that we have seen.”

The report said that in addition to Mr. Wildstein and Ms. Kelly, the lane closures were known to Bill Stepien, the governor’s 2013 campaign manager, and Bill Baroni, who was deputy executive director of the Port Authority. But the report said those two didn’t know the ulterior political motive.

Mr. Christie has apologized and denied knowing about the scheme to close entry lanes to the bridge. He fired Ms. Kelly. He also withdrew his nomination of Mr. Stepien to be chairman of New Jersey’s Republican Party and canceled any business Mr. Stepien had with the Republican Governors Association, of which Mr. Christie is now chairman.

This report is the first of several inquiries into the “bridgegate” saga, which has tarnished Mr. Christie’s national image as he ponders a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

The Democratic National Committee panned the report, calling it “nothing more than an expensive sham” because Ms. Kelly, Mr. Wildstein and Mr. Stepien, three of the people at the center of the scandal, refused to talk to investigators.

“What we didn’t get for that hefty price tag to New Jersey taxpayers were any interviews with the key figures who executed the plan or any insight into why this happened,” DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee said. “There was no real evidence, no real findings, no real answers, and definitely no exoneration.”

State Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski, Democrat and co-chairman of the bipartisan legislative panel probing the incident, has raised similar concerns and questioned the report’s objectivity, based on Mr. Mastro being, like Mr. Christie, a former federal prosecutor and also his having served as chief of staff to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a staunch Christie supporter.

Story Continues →