The $1 million report commissioned by Chris Christie following the revenge lane closures at the George Washington Bridge, released in full today, concludes “that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” based on interviews with 70 people, including the man himself, and more than 250,000 emails and documents.
But while Christie and his current staff cooperated, the self-described “comprehensive and exhaustive” inquiry does not include firsthand accounts from the three people it blames for the mess: former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, former Christie aid and campaign manager Bill Stepien, and former Port Authority official and Christie frenemy David Wildstein.
The report, prepared by the firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which has worked with the administration in the past and includes a personal friend of Christie’s, notes, “We have not found any evidence of any other member of the Governor’s staff, besides Bridget Kelly, being involved in the decision to realign these George Washington Bridge toll lanes at Fort Lee.”
It says Wildstein and Kelly “knowingly participated … at least in some part, for some ulterior motive to target [Fort Lee] Mayor Sokolich,” although it stopped short of saying the plot was to punish Sokolich for failing to endorse Christie. (Separate allegations from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid unless she approved a real-estate deal “are, in material respects, demonstrably false.”)
Other highlights include:
Wildstein claims he told Christie at a September 11 event, during the closures
By early December 2013, Wildstein was feeling vulnerable, knew he would have to resign, and then did. While he continued to insist to the Governor’s Office that this was a legitimate traffic study, even if flawed in its execution, and admitted that this was his “idea,” he tried to deflect blame, telling Drewniak that he had not acted alone, identifying Kelly and Stepien as others who knew, and claiming he had emails to prove it.
Wildstein even suggested he mentioned the traffic issue in Fort Lee to the Governor at a public event during the lane realignment—a reference that the Governor does not recall and, even if actually made, would not have registered with the Governor in any event because he knew nothing about this decision in advance and would not have considered another traffic issue at one of the bridges or tunnels to be memorable. Drewniak passed on Wildstein’s claims to others in the Governor’s Office. Others also heard the Kelly email rumors and reported them back to the Governor’s Office around that time.
Kelly and Stepien’s “personal relationship”
[…] at some point after Stepien’s departure to run the campaign, Kelly and Stepien became personally involved, although, by early August 2013, their personal relationship had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s choice, and they largely stopped speaking. […]
Like the others involved in the lane realignment, events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind. […] her first known communication to Wildstein about the lane realignment in mid-August 2013, for example, occurred around the time that her personal relationship with Stepien had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s behest and Stepien and Kelly had largely stopped speaking. Indeed, that fact may have affected how Kelly and Stepien conducted themselves and whether they communicated about the lane realignment.
Kelly asking an aid to delete an email that showed her approval at pissing off Sokolich
In response, Renna reminded Kelly that she had known about Mayor Sokolich’s angry call to Ridley during the period when the lanes were realigned. At that point, Kelly immediately changed her tone on the call and responded, in sum or substance: “Oh right, the email you sent me that I responded to with ‘good.’ Do me a favor and get rid of that.”
Christie getting emotional
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 report recommends that Christie staffers should really not be using their personal email addresses to conduct official business; encourages the administration to appoint an “ombudsperson” to restore public trust; and eliminate the intergovernmental affairs office.
As for the suggestions of bias against the law firm, which was hired by Christie and paid by taxpayers, the lawyer in charge said previously, “At the end of the day, we will be judged by whether we got this right.” Kelly and Wildstein, if and when they respond, will have a personal interest in proving them wrong.