Christie administration hires outside law firm amid bridge controversy
January 16th, 2014
09:39 AM ET
6 years ago

Christie administration hires outside law firm amid bridge controversy

(CNN) - Politically-embattled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration has retained a law firm to help conduct an internal review and cooperate with a U.S. Attorney inquiry into allegations top staffers orchestrated a traffic logjam in Fort Lee, New Jersey, as political payback.

The announcement comes on the same day a special state Assembly committee investigating the scandal plans on issuing subpoenas for documents as well as current and former aides, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Documents released last week suggest members of Christie's inner circle ordered the closing of two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September, causing massive traffic problems for four days in Fort Lee, which serves as the access point to the bridge on the New Jersey side.

Former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly, the governor's chief spokesman, Mike Drewniak, and Bill Stepien, a sharp-elbowed Christie political confidante who managed both his successful gubernatorial runs, are on the subpoena list, according to the sources.

Other names are also being discussed by the panel that is led by Democrats and will be assisted by attorney Reid Schar, a key figure in the federal prosecution of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"Governor Christie made clear last week that he will conduct an internal review to uncover the facts surrounding the lane closures in Fort Lee," a statement from the governor's office read. "His administration is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney inquiry and other appropriate inquiries and requests for information."

The Christie administration has retained Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP as outside counsel in a move the administration hopes "will bring an outside, third-party perspective to the situation."

Randy Mastro, a former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, will head up the legal team. Mastro has experience in organized crime cases and led the federal racketeering lawsuit that forced the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to hold democratic elections and to undergo court supervision. Mastro is also a former deputy mayor of New York City.

The pending legal showdown centers around whether the traffic gridlock was engineered as political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, who did not endorse Christie for re-election last November.

Christie has said he was stunned by the suggestion, which was first made by Democrats and subsequently magnified by explosive e-mails released last week by state legislators.

Christie fired Kelly. Her name appeared in e-mails with an appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, David Wildstein, who left his job as the scandal unfolded last fall. One e-mail quoted her as saying: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

On Tuesday, Christie addressed the scandal briefly in his State of the State address, saying that "mistakes were clearly made." He said previously, however, that he knew nothing about any notion of a deliberate attempt to tie up traffic, much less exact revenge on Sokolich.

Filed under: Chris Christie • New Jersey
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. VJ

    Christie should resign period...

    January 16, 2014 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  2. Founder

    I swear, if you put CC in a WWII German uniform you have Sergeant Shultz..."I know nothing..NOTHING!!"

    I hope he is personally footing the bill for Dewey, Cheatem and Howe LLC, because it is clear that when one who "cooperates" hires legal counsel, they are hired in order to obstruct, not cooperate. The public is demaning cooperation, not more coverup.

    January 16, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  3. BennyHill

    Stick a fork in him. A BIG fork.

    January 16, 2014 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  4. private

    He should have done this back in Sept 2013 when it was first brought to his attention.

    January 16, 2014 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  5. PushingBack

    That should be considered a sign he's going to cooperate fully with the investigation? Nope!

    January 16, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  6. current state of the union

    More tax dollars wasted on his agenda, like two elections in a month, no politics there, no way, he did it for the citizens, thanks a bunch big guy. He's just another gop thug, with a much bigger mouth and attitude, aka sense of entitlement.

    January 16, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  7. HRC16

    Chris Christy should rejoice, when this well known lawyer comes up empty, it should clear the way for his Presidential run. I mean there is no way he will be able it link Christy to this scandal. Come on it was just a few rouge elements in his administration. Nobody has pointed that out better than Rachel Maddow. Yes, when this guy clears him, his innocents will be undisputable.

    January 16, 2014 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  8. Marcia Parisi

    I actually liked Christie. Thought he'd make a fine democrat, actually, that he had a heart, and a brain, and wanted to serve the hard working middle class people of this country. Now I'm not so sure. Seems like a slime ball.

    January 16, 2014 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  9. scarf

    I never liked his "in your face" attitude, but liked his "hands on" style if that was what was required to get the job done. Now, he's claiming he's a "hands off" administrator who is ignorant about what his subordinates are doing. So, he's an incompetent bully who wants to be president? No, thank you. Lawyer up, governor, and let the coverup begin.......

    January 16, 2014 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  10. You say what

    Here is what confuses me the most about Christie denying he knew anything about this. He loves the spotlight, he loves to appear as the governor who swoops down into chaos and makes everything better, he looks for problems he can solve so the camera's can watch him fix it. But for 3 days traffic was snarled, emergency vehicles slowed, a city in gridlock, and what does Christie do? Folks, this was 2 months before his re election, he would have been looking for an event like this to happen so he could fix it.. but no, he say's nothing, does nothing, and then act's like he never knew it happened. The reason he retained legal counsel is because the new investigator hired has already sent one ex governor to prison.

    January 16, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  11. Gurgyl

    Why not he resign?

    January 16, 2014 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. WillB

    And, they plan to pay for the legal fees using some of the disaster recovery Federal funds.

    January 16, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  13. A. Duck

    This is obviously just a partisan witch-hunt motivated and financed by the Democrats who are afraid Christie would be an unbeatable candidate in the '16 presidential elections, while the real scandal is being ignored: Christies' lifelong support for the Dallas Cowboys and his rooting for them against our Giants! Unforgivable!

    January 16, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  14. Steve

    Great. Fantastic. Wonderful. Because Christie's aides, who in all matters were always on a short leash held by the Governor, decide to act like spiteful children for some reason, and create a traffic nightmare, residents of NJ will need to pay for an outside law firm to help protect the Governor. As a lifelong resident, I would like to know how this firm was chosen, what are their rates (remember, Christie didn't go with the low bid when it came to TV ads after Sandy), and what they are doing exactly. And what is the need for an internal review? This will be reviewed by a State legislative committee as well as the State Senate and Federal IG.

    January 16, 2014 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  15. Dudley Doright

    The hubris that it takes to do something like this is unfathomable. Criminal proceedind should take place.

    January 16, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  16. USS Constitution

    Why don't you over at CNN issue a retraction on the second 'scandal'? The fact that this 'news' network reported his administration was under Federal investigation, because of what DEMOCRAT rep. Palumbo said, is ridiculous. CNN has become about as good as TMZ. ISSUE A RETRACTION.

    January 16, 2014 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  17. Rosslaw

    Gambino family values.

    January 16, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  18. S.B. Stein

    I don't want taxpayer money paying for outside lawyers. There is better use of taxpayer money like paying the pension obligations that Christie refuses to do.

    January 16, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  19. current state of the union

    Another con job, the last thing he wants is the truth to come out. You know how a person hanging around an investigation draws suspicion on them, well this us nothing like that, no sir, not this guy, he believes we need yet another team involved, or could he be the guy hanging around the crime scene, keeping tabs on what's happening?

    January 16, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  20. escobar

    Seems to me a lawyer would not have been needed if he only asked Bridget Anne Kelly why she started this whole thing before he fired her. Same with Wildstein. What a waste of taxpayer money.

    January 16, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  21. Fivetools22

    As a Government worker, pretty sure that's what Christy is, I am looking forward to the taxpayers renting me a helicopter to take me to my sons baseball games this spring. Yes, some of us have long memories. For me, there are signs when a public servant feels entitled and begins to forget the duty of service. Its reasonable to presume Christy new about the "Bridge" but once the lawyers get involved we may never really know the truth. Now all we have to look forward to is another circus about a Governor who should be working, not flying in helicopters to ball games, making commercials with his family and wasting tax dollars, and making friends with the President in a calculating move to advance his own personal political agenda. Rome was on fire already, now its starting to burn.

    January 16, 2014 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  22. Lewy

    Lawyer-up. Cover-up. Shut-up.

    January 16, 2014 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  23. Rudy NYC

    bobo wrote:

    Due to bad decisions from some people in his administration, Christie now has to hire a law firm to help find out what happened. At least Christie took action and Fired people.... unlike Obama.
    You like that, don't you? He fired some people. I'm sure Romney likes it, too.

    Oh, it's so Republican of him to spend taxpayer money "to find out what happened" when he could have just simply asked the people before he fired them. Spending and wasting tax dollars are what Republicans do best.

    January 16, 2014 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  24. robinwroberts

    Worst case scenario: Chris actually ordered the lane closures as retribution. My response to that is...SO WHAT?!!!! Honestly, what politician in high power of some kind or another didn't abuse their power to either help their benefactors or hurt those who oppose them? Name one. Not to be overly cynical about our leaders but they all have agendas, biases and flaws. Shutting down some lanes of traffic for a few days, to me, is pretty minor compared to other offenses he could have done. It was more childish and stupid than anything else. Should that cost him the presidency? Hardly. Hillary Clinton has WAY more dirt on her resume than Christie. Using the "Lesser of two evils" approach to voting has me leaning towards Christie big-time.

    January 16, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  25. Rick McDaniel

    That is appropriate. The Dems are going to attack, attack, and attack, so the best thing to do, is put the whole issue to rest, with a full fledged investigation.

    January 16, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
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