We still don’t know why the Christie administration closed those lanes

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Members of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration had an “ulterior motive” for ordering the closure of lanes last year leading to the George Washington Bridge, lawyers conducting an internal review said Thursday. But the lawyers said they aren’t sure exactly what that motive was.

“We’re not able to answer every question today,” lead attorney Randy Mastro of law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher said in a news conference on Thursday after releasing the internal review.

After the scandal over the lane closings erupted earlier this year, Christie directed the law firm to conduct their own investigation of what happened. The report can be found here.

The 360-page internal review clears the Republican governor of wrong-doing, though it blames several other aides in the administration: “Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” the report states.

Here are some other takeaways from the internal review, which the firm said resulted from interviewing 70 witnesses and reviewing 250,000 documents. Those papers included the personal texts and emails from Christie and other high-ranking officials and aides, the report said.

– A senior Christie aide participated in a plan to close lanes to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich

“Our investigation found that David Wildstein (then of the Port Authority) and Bridget Kelly (then one of the Deputy Chiefs of Staff in the Governor’s Office) knowingly participated in this plan to realign toll lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee, at least in part, for some ulterior motive to target Mayor Sokolich.”

– But investigators don’t know why Mayor Sokolich was targeted

“What motivated this act is not yet clear. The common speculation that this was an act of political retaliation because Mayor Sokolich failed to endorse the Governor for re-election is not established by the evidence that we have seen.”

– Other aides close to Christie were aware of lane closings

“Our investigation also found that Bill Stepien (then the Governor’s campaign manager) and Bill Baroni (then the Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority) knew of this idea in advance, but we found no evidence that they knew of the ulterior motive here, besides the claimed purpose of conducting a traffic study. As to whether anyone else may have knowingly participated in this plan to target Mayor Sokolich, our investigation has not found any evidence of anyone else’s involvement.”

– Two central players in the closings — Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien — were romantically involved

“Because Stepien was her ‘benefactor,’ Kelly relied heavily on him during this transition. And 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.”

– Wildstein of Port Authority admits he came up with idea to close lanes

“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 [Christie spokesman Michael] Drewniak that he had not acted alone, identifying Kelly and Stepien as others who knew, and claiming he had emails to prove it.

– Wildstein claims he told Christie about lane closings while they were happening

“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.”

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