March 27th, 2014
02:13 PM ET
9 months ago

Internal probe: Christie doesn't recall being informed of traffic jams

(CNN) – A top appointee of Chris Christie apparently told another official that he informed the New Jersey governor about the now-infamous traffic tie ups near the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last year as they were occurring, according to a review of the matter by outside lawyers hired by the governor's office.

But details of the internal investigation released on Thursday said Christie "does not recall" any conversation with David Wildstein, then an executive of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, at a public event last September, and it all wouldn't have "registered" anyway because the governor "knew nothing about this decision in advance."

Christie has maintained repeatedly that he knew nothing of the gridlock created by selected lane closures to the nation's busiest bridge until after they occurred and only from media reports.

And he has denied any knowledge the tie ups were allegedly ordered to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing the governor's reelection.

Christie: Iowans "love" me

Although the review introduced new details and magnified allegations against key players, it did not offer any clarity on why the lanes were closed beyond "some ulterior motive to target (Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich)."

Still, Christie's team said some things are now better understood.

"We are confident that, based on our thorough review, we have a clear understanding of what happened here, even if the participants' precise motives remain to be determined," the review said.

The scandal, under investigation by a state legislative committee and the U.S. Attorney's office over concern Christie appointees abused their authority, has called into question the governor's forceful governing style.

The report examined the claim that Christie had created a "culture" of bullying adversaries and found it "unsubstantiated."

The multiple investigations have also cast a cloud over any potential presidential campaign he may launch for 2016. Christie said on Wednesday night that the saga, which has engulfed a number of key officials he appointed since taking office in 2009, has not altered his thinking about a possible White House run.

Christie said in an interview for ABC's "World News" on Thursday that he couldn't believe it when he first heard about the traffic jam allegations and that he felt "taken advantage of" by his aides.

"I said, 'This can't possibly be true because who would do something like that?' Sometimes people do inexplicably stupid things," Christie said, adding that "none of it made any sense to me and to some extent still does not."

Team of lawyers

A team of lawyers from the firm Gibson Dunn led by Randy Mastro, a former deputy New York City mayor, examined more than 250,000 documents, including emails and text messages as part of the investigation, according to their review, which Mastro detailed publicly.

As previously reported, the internal investigation found no evidence linking Christie to the tie ups that occurred when certain access lanes dedicated to the bridge were closed without warning over a work week.

The findings concluded that Wildstein carried it out, an allegation suggested in emails released publicly around the legislative investigation in January.

"David Wildstein is the person who originated this idea and orchestrated it," Mastro said at his law office.

The review also singled out Bridget Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff who sent the infamous email to Wildstein weeks before the tie ups: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Mastro said the investigation concluded no one in Christie's office other than her "knew of this idea in advance, played any role in the decision or the implementation of it."

A key passage involved a dinner in December between Wildstein and Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak who "passed along" Wildstein's claims to "others in the governor's office" that Wildstein had suggested that he mentioned the traffic jams to Christie at a public event while they were going on.

The review said Christie did not recall the reference, did not know about the issue in advance, and would not have considered "another traffic issue" at one of the notoriously congested bridges or tunnels linking New York and New Jersey "to be memorable."

Wildstein, Kelly, and a number of others have been subpoenaed as part of the state legislative investigation.

Wildstein has refused to testify before legislative investigators. Kelly is fighting her subpoena in court.

Unable to speak with key players

Investigators conducting the internal review were not able to speak with Wildstein, Kelly or other prominent figures in the scandal.

The review also found that Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and Port Authority Executive Director Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, knew of the plan to close the lanes in advance, but there was no evidence uncovered that the two men knew why.

The report also found that Stepien and Kelly had a personal relationship that ended by early August with the two not on speaking terms.

"That might explain," Mastro said, "a lack of communication between the two of them during the critical period when this lane realignment decision was made."

He went on to say that it was not meant imply anything regarding an ulterior motive for the lane closings.

The review alleged Kelly and Wildstein covered up the motive by telling members of the Christie administration that the gridlock was part of a traffic study, a claim that Democrats have questioned.

Lawyers for Wildstein and Kelly could not immediately be reached for comment.

Kevin Marino, the attorney for Stepien, said the internal review "only confirms" that Stepien, who managed Christie's two successful gubernatorial campaigns, "had no involvement whatsoever in the planning, execution or concealment of the lane closures."

He called the revelation of a personal relationship between Stepien and Kelly was offensive.

"The only reason it can possibly be in there is to create a headline. So let's just inject something that's salacious. It's just pathetic!" Marino said. "It's totally improper. It has no relevancy to this report whatsoever."

Not the final word

State Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Democrats leading the legislative investigation, issued a strongly worded statement about the internal probe.

"Lawyers hired by and paid by the Christie administration itself to investigate the governor's office who then say the governor and most of his office did nothing wrong will not be the final word on this matter," they said.

"The people of New Jersey need a full accounting of what happened. This review has deficiencies that raise questions about a lack of objectivity and thoroughness," they said. "We will continue to pursue our investigation wherever the facts lead. We want a full accounting of the lane closings and any related abuses of power and what can be done to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Christie, in the ABC interview said that the review was not conducted by his personal lawyers, but by outside attorneys hired by his office.

Mastro also defended the investigation he led.

"We are lawyers, former federal prosecutors, professionals doing an independent investigation. It serves no one's interest, not ours, not the governor's, not the governor's office, and not the constituency that the governor's office serves - the people of New Jersey, for us to have tried to do anything other than uncover the truth and report the truth because we're going to be judge on whether we got it right," he said.

Kelly was fired, while Wildstein, Stepien and Baroni have all left their jobs.

CNN's Chris Frates contributed to this report.


Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. pkMyt1

    This is great, the Regan defense. Maybe Christie has Alzheimer's as well.

    March 27, 2014 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  2. Laurie

    Yeah, he's presidential material all right!

    March 27, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  3. Mark P

    If Christie had nothing to do with the bridge traffic jam, he, like any other reasonable person, would say "I had nothing to do with this"; the phrase "I don't recall" is used by liars being coached by lawyers.

    March 27, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  4. Marie MD

    Right, don't recall ever been told that your state closed a bridge for four full days and if I remember correctly an older woman died. Where were you? High or in outer space? Even if you were having your surgery done you would have known. I don't think it takes four days to get over surgery and as governor you need to be on top of your tiny state just a tad better.
    LIAR!!
    @mcfx, the investigation that was done was in his favor because he hired the attorney to do the investigation. You really think he's going to say this guy is lying? I am waiting for the REAL investigation .

    March 27, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    #1. " The review also found that Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and Port Authority Executive Director Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, knew of the plan to close the lanes in advance, but there was no evidence uncovered that the two men knew why."

    #2. "The report also found that Stepien and Kelly had a personal relationship that ended by early August with the two not on speaking terms."

    #3. "That might explain," Mastro said, "a lack of communication between the two of them during the critical period when this lane realignment decision was made."

    So, we remain with the question who actually ordered the lanes closed (or Christie speak ... realignment)?

    "We are confident that, based on our thorough review, we have a clear understanding of what happened here, even if the participants' precise motives remain to be determined," the review said."

    Yeah. Whatever, Chris Christie. Just whatever.

    March 27, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. sly

    Republicans report that after they complete the Obama Birth Certificate senate hearings, they will re-open hearings into the Monica Lewinsky scandel.

    After that, they'll re-open hearings about Bengazi and why the GOP voted to deny the Presidents request for more security budgets.

    March 27, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  7. 2 Km N of G Zero

    Report prepared by the man Christie hired.
    And the GOP says it's impartial.
    But hey, let's get back to asking the same questions over and over about Benghazi and then saying they still have serious questions. Fox News last month had a poll that basically says that tactic isn't working (Hillary is still leading the pack by a lot), so they have two more years to double down and yell louder.

    March 27, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  8. j007bond

    Just like Hillary!

    March 27, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "Liar Liar! Republican on fire!"

    /marshmallows

    March 27, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. smith

    Christie doesn`t recall. See everybody, Christie is innocent of this sinful scandal. lol

    March 27, 2014 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  11. Not a Partisan

    Christie says "he did not know" or "did not hear" about "the bridge thing" and he is a liar . . . but . . . Obama "did not hear" or "did not know" or "read about" anything about (1) Benghazi, (2) NSA issues, and (3) IRS Targeting but most of you believe HIM? His people are investigating too. And that's alright ???? How can you believe one man and not another? Same thing if you ask me. People like me see right through you. PARTISANS !!!

    March 27, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  12. Jackson

    It depends on what your definition of "recall" is....

    March 27, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  13. Malory Archer

    Get a Clue

    Malory Archer

    Joe

    Why should I be compelled to subsidize other peoples' poor lifestyle decisions?

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    What if you have an accident? Who is going to pay for YOUR poor decision to stick the rest of US with your medical expenses?
    _____________________
    I am, that is why I have LTD insurance as well as medical insurance, the poster was talking about....oh nevermind you liberals are clueless partisans as always, it is like talking to a brick wall...

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Clueless, you really need to take a few reading comprhension classes before you embarrass yourself again. You HAVE insurance, so clearly my question wasn't directed at you, and you knew that, but just like the other knee-jerk, hate-filled partisan whiners here, you attempted to belittle me, but in the process only made yourself look foolish. Joe whined that he doesn't want insurance, hence my question "Who is going to pay for YOUR poor decision to stick the rest of US with your medical expenses?" But just like all clueless partisan rethugs, as always, dealing with your ilk really IS like talking to a brick wall...

    March 27, 2014 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. gladiatorgrl

    WOW he really is channeling Reagan!!!! right out of Iran/Contra

    March 27, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  15. Dale Zalewski

    Let's just hope that this guy's political career is over.

    March 27, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  16. kws11

    In California, ALL our legislators are guilty of deliberately causing traffic jams across the entire state. They gave all our infrastructure money to government employee unions, leaving nothing to pay for the actual work that needs to be done. When you think about it, isn't that WORSE?

    March 27, 2014 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  17. wise guy

    Just another corrupt Republican governor above the law, attacking education, unions, rewarding big state contracts to friends, great guy, just swell. Wake up, read hub 4643, Republicans in Michigan are going yo make it illegal to picket, 10,000 a day for the union, and 1,000 per pickitter, per day, to be awarded to the company being pickitted, that's the gop plan.

    March 27, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. MaryM

    Ha, Sorry Krispy, your Hired attornies dont have the final say. The DA and the FBI investigations continue. Krispy is toast for should I say, I smell bacon!!

    March 27, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  19. Jim Jimson

    Christie investigated Christie and found Christie innocent.

    March 27, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  20. chuckly

    Funny how they came to these conclusions while interviewing NONE of the major players in the scandal to begin with. Wonder when Christie is going on vacation with the investigator again!!!

    March 27, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  21. ChrisM

    All of America say you, Christie on the bridge with Wildstein during the lane closures. Christie is a big fat Liar !!

    March 27, 2014 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  22. veep

    He's not going to be President & those in his circle know the culture and why this happened.
    Ms. Kelly was PROUD of her work against the People of New Jersey.

    March 27, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  23. wise guy

    That's Michigan house bill ( hb).4643, disgusting, Snyder can't sign this fast enough for the Koch brothers, what a traitor, I doubt he'll be here next hear, he's told some doosies that's for sure, he spared the police and firefighters unions, so they will be featuring them in campaign ads I'm sure, he even added state troopers after the budget was going to have their numbers reduced, all BS all the time from these clowns.

    March 27, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  24. Darlene

    Yeah right and Santa Claus wears green on Christmas....

    March 27, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  25. Tampa Tim

    I guess living in Florida, I knew about the lane closures long before Krispy, says a lot about the Tampa Trib, USA Today, and our local media.

    March 27, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
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