- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 7, 2014

The special committee investigating New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the “Bridgegate” scandal have found no evidence tying the governor to the lane closures, according to the investigators’ interim report, due to be released Monday.

That’s good news for Mr. Christie, a Republican whose presidential aspirations were jeopardized after he acknowledged that, despite his assurances to the contrary, some of his top aides had in fact ordered the lane closures. Mr. Christie had denied any role and said those aides lied to him when he tried to investigate.

The 136-page report, which leaked Friday, left open the possibility that Mr. Christie could have been involved, and said it’s unclear when he learned of the closures.

“At present, there is no conclusive evidence as to whether Governor Chris Christie was or was not aware of the lane closures either in advance of their implementation or contemporaneously as they were occurring,” the report said. “Nor is there conclusive evidence as to whether Governor Christie did or did not have involvement in implementing or directing the lane closures.”

But with no clear connections, the report — the product of an investigative committee led by top Democrats in the state legislature — is a victory for Mr. Christie.

Randy Mastro, a lawyer who led a separate investigation Mr. Christie ordered that cleared his name, said the new report backs up what he already found.

“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,” Mr. 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.”

The Democratic report did say there were some troubling findings and accusations.

Investigators said that a spokesman for the governor testified that David Wildstein, a Christie-appointed official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who resigned after the scandal erupted, “claimed that he informed the governor of the lane closures at a 9/11 Memorial observance that the two attended.”

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski, the cochairmen of the select committee, said the report leaves open key questions about Mr. Christie’s behavior.

They said they couldn’t be as exhaustive as they wanted in their questioning because they declined to grant witnesses immunity, which may have made some reluctant to come forward and talk about what they saw for fear of facing charged in an ongoing U.S. attorney’s office investigation.

“What is clear, though, is the governor’s office showed a curious lack of curiosity to mounting indications that serious harms had been inflicted on thousands of New Jersey motorists for political rather than legitimate policy reasons,” Ms. Weinberg and Mr. Wisniewski said in a statement. “We also now know that governor’s office staff on occasion blurred the lines between their official state functions and campaign objectives. This erodes public trust and confidence.”

Mr. Christie came under fire about a year ago after emails were released that suggested his administration had a direct hand in the September 2013 traffic jams in Fort Lee, clogging up the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge, apparently in order to exact political payback against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing his re-election bid.

For his part, Mr. Christie apologized at a nearly two-hour press conference and cut ties with the two top aides — Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, his 2013 campaign manager — who were involved in the lane closures.

The Democratic National Committee said ultimately blame rests with Mr. Christie because he “created the culture within his administration that led to Bridgegate.”

“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,” said Michael Czin, a DNC spokesperson. “That, in itself, is inexcusable conduct coming from the administration of someone who wants to be president of the United States.”

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