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.

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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. dkc_2001

    Liar Liar! Republican on fire!

    March 27, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  2. john

    In reality, he never had any chance of being elected president. Perhaps he could get close to a republican nomination but would never carry enough states to get elected.

    March 27, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  3. Howard

    I have disproved Einsteins theory of relativity. Gov Christie had no knowledge or involvement in the bridge closing. Both statements are equally credible.

    March 27, 2014 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  4. sherman

    I don't think you grasp what this means in the big picture. The powers that be let him out of the presidential race. That's what happened. They said, "Not you, you don't play ball with us." – he's not one of them. Regardless of whether he knew, didn't know, had it done even... the bigger scandal is that we do not get to choose our leaders. ever.

    March 27, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...And then there were the jokes he was making about the situation.
    How can you joke about something that you "had no knowledge" was occurring?
    Come on Gov.! Don't you remember saying that you were out there on the bridge setting up the cones?
    You 'member, dontcha?!
    Too droll. Too much.

    March 27, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  6. Lucky18

    Christie knew what he ate three months ago, Thursday of that week. He didn't recall??? Give me a break!

    March 27, 2014 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  7. Sven Moshen

    Funny how he doesn't recall, nor does he say that he knew anything about it until the story broke... hogwash. I heard about it three weeks before on a piece on Rachel Maddow. How could I have heard it so far in advance, and he not?

    March 27, 2014 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  8. Whatever

    Chris Christie reminds me of a sleezy used car salesman.

    March 27, 2014 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  9. gobsmacked

    I think I will hold judgement until the state and federal probes are completed.

    March 27, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  10. DC Observer

    Hillary Clinton did not recall being advised that the embassy was unsecure -- but hey, Hillary clarified herself by saying Hey, what does it matter now?

    March 27, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  11. max099

    I wouldn't recall that either. Even if I could.

    March 27, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  12. ted

    first he says he did not know. second he says he doesn't recall. third, he will admit all but he will be in prison with the previous two governors of illinois.

    March 27, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  13. Awakiw

    Mr. porky will say he did not have his dinner last night too!!!

    March 27, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  14. basedrum777

    Even republicans are starting to see the true stripes.

    March 27, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. steinborn

    He did it

    March 27, 2014 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  16. DC Observer

    For Sven Moshen

    Funny how she doesn't recall, nor does he say that she knew anything about it until the story broke... hogwash. And of course, this is Benghazi not the George Washington Bridge.

    March 27, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  17. mcfx

    Typical LIBERAL media outlet. With an entire investigation showing absolutely nothing linking Christie to bridgegate and 350 pages of reporting to prove it...CNN comes up with "I don't recall" giving the perception that Christie is hiding something. The man gave an almost 3 hour long press conference where no question was off the table until press tired themselves out and still NOTHING in any investigation has gone against him. That is WAY WAY WAY more than we've heard on something really important like Benghazi, AP Scandal, IRS scandal, Fast & Furious, where Hillary and Obama have REPEATEDLY told us that they "Don't Recall"!!!!!

    March 27, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  18. sly

    Wow – look how obese this crook is.

    "I am not a crook" said Christie.

    March 27, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. Mr. Balls

    Report clears Christie in bridge probe. Just set aside the fact his cronies prepared the report.

    March 27, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  20. wise guy

    Lane realignments, nice touch sir. Now stfu, you liar.

    March 27, 2014 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  21. Kata Strophic

    Republicans love to beeotch and moan about "Chicago-style politics," whatever in the heck they are. Christie's been of tremendous assistance in showing that bunch of rank amateurs exactly how it should be done.

    March 27, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  22. gstlab3

    I do not recall any of these major networks or news papers reporting anything about these elected people that are all democrats being hauled off in hand cuffs for political corruption and now I hear some state senator also a democrat in California is now outed for major gun running crimes with Asian gangs and taking bribes from monied interests in medical marijuana.
    but if this was a republican it would be front page news all day every day and you all know it.

    March 27, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  23. gstlab3

    cnn is bought and paid for by big government and big corporate money and that is all the news you will ever need from them.

    March 27, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  24. gstlab3

    I know you see this moderator tool., you are brainwashed and guilty of willfull ignorance.

    March 27, 2014 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Is this a recent photo of the good Gov?
    If so, can he also not recall that he had surgery to lose weight and is supposed to be on a diet?
    He's looking like he fell off the wagon and then turned around and ate it.
    Stress will do that to you I guess...

    March 27, 2014 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
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