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Christie cleared in his own probe, but others loom

NEW YORK (AP) - Lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration said Thursday that the governor was not involved in the plot to create a traffic jam last fall, a conclusion that left the lead lawyer defending the integrity of his report, which came ahead of the results of separate and ongoing federal and legislative investigations.

The taxpayer-funded report released by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro relied on interviews with Christie and other officials in his administration - who were not under oath - and 250,000 documents, many of them emails and text messages. But the key figures in the political payback plot did not cooperate, leading Democrats to question the credibility of the report and its thoroughness.

The investigation concluded Christie had no knowledge beforehand of lane closings Sept. 9-12 near the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York that caused four days of massive gridlock in the community of Fort Lee.

The closings became a major scandal for the governor in January when he had to backtrack and acknowledge the involvement of a top aide and an associate in orchestrating the closings. He has repeatedly denied knowing about the plot or being involved in the closings.

"Governor Christie's account of these events rings true. It's corroborated by many witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide," the report found.

"We uncovered nothing contradicting the governor's account," it concluded.

Democrats blasted the findings, with the party's national committee calling the report "nothing more than an expensive sham." New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, co-chair of the legislative committee investigating the same issues, said it "raises more questions than answers."

Her co-chair, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, also a Democrat, was critical of the report for not including information from those who refused to cooperate. "It's very hard to tell who's telling the truth when you don't hear from all sides," he said.

The report did not find even minor missteps by Christie and his inner circle. It cast Christie as a leader was deeply troubled about the possibility that staff members were not being truthful to him - asking "with tears in his eyes" whether any of his top aides were involved in the lane closures.

During a news conference, Mastro emphasized that the review found no evidence that the scheme was reflective of the wider operations of the governor's office.

"We found that this was the action of the few," he said. "This is not reflective of the whole."

On a radio show Wednesday night, Christie, a possible 2016 Republican presidential contender, said the events of the past several months will not affect his decisions about his political future.

Defending the report, Mastro said his team was able to review a trove of documents, including emails and text messages among Christie, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, top governor's office staff and former staffers.

"We believe we have gotten to the truth or we wouldn't be reporting it," he said.

He also said his team was sharing information with federal prosecutors.

The report, issued at Mastro's New York law office, concluded that former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein and ex-Christie aide Bridget Kelly were behind the closures and that they were targeting Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

It did not determine why they wanted to hurt the Democrat yet said there was no evidence that it was because he refused to endorse Christie for re-election.

The report said Sokolich brought up the possibility of endorsing Christie but ultimately decided against it and that even after that decision, the mayor remained on a list of Democrats whom Christie considered appointing to various boards.

Both Wildstein and Kelly have refused to talk to investigators, citing their right against self-incrimination. In the absence of their voices, the report delved into their personalities.

"Whatever motivated Wildstein and Kelly to act as they did, it was not at the behest of Governor Christie, who knew nothing about it," the report said.

Mastro said Wildstein seemed to have "bizarre political and personal animus" against a variety of people. He also quotes another Christie confidante as saying Wildstein had "50 crazy ideas a week."

The report said Kelly tried to cover her tracks when Christie began asking what happened. She asked a colleague to delete an email about the plot, but the other staffer retained the email anyway, the report said.

The report also suggested Kelly may have been motivated to participate in part because she'd recently been dumped in a romantic relationship by a former Christie campaign manager.

Christie also cut ties with that strategist, Bill Stepien, over the scandal. The report found that he knew about the lane closures but not about an ulterior motive. His lawyer, Kevin Marino, said Thursday that raises the question of why Stepien was ousted from Christie's realm. "I just wish someone would acknowledge it was a mistake," said Marino, who also said the mention of Stepien's relationship with Kelly, when both were single and not working together, was gratuitous.

Lawyers for Kelly and Wildstein did not return messages.

Wildstein's lawyer has said "evidence exists" that Christie knew about the closures as they happened. Mastro surmised in his report that Wildstein was referring to a conversation he had with Christie at a Sept. 11 memorial service. A Christie spokesman told Mastro's team that Wildstein later said he had told the governor about it during that event. But Mastro says Christie did not recall it being brought up and if it was, it would not have registered as significant to Christie - something Christie has said before.

Back in December, Christie said he was not aware of the bridge issue until "well after the whole thing was over." By last month, he said he may have heard something about it as it happened but it didn't strike him as important until an Oct. 1 news article about it. Mastro's review accepts that version of when Christie learned about it. There has been no evidence produced that suggests he was aware of the plan before the lanes were shut down.

The report also found that a claim by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, that Christie's administration told her that Superstorm Sandy would be tied to a private redevelopment plan, is "demonstrably false." In response, Zimmer called the report "sadly predictable" and a "one-sided whitewash."

Mastro called for Christie's staffers to cease using personal email accounts for official business, eliminating the office where Kelly had worked and appointing an ethics officer in the governor's office. He also recommended studying major changes to the Port Authority, an agency jointly run by New York and New Jersey.

Join the discussion

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Ken March 28 2014 at 11:11 AM

I don't know, using the term appointing an ethics officer in the same sentence as : the state of New Jersey seems like a phrase such as jumbo shrimp, or the check is in the mail.

I wonder if the Republicans will chop each other up in the presidential primary like last election,

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mjd685 March 28 2014 at 11:52 AM

I have been following this very closely. How does Christie explain, which he has not, the fact that 2 of his high ranking appointees to the PA suddenly resigned around November I believe and he goes on TV in January when the beep hits the fan and states "I just found out about it yesterday" Common sense tells me that that was a lie. You are not going to ask them why they are resigning their positions when they did. And when this happened in September and reported on in the news media, no one reads papers, no one questions why the most famous bridge in the World for 4 days is having issues. Right in the middle of the most democratic area of NJ, Hudson County. Christie claims he was oblivious to all this. He does not receive one phone call about what is going on. None of his friends and family outside of politics makes mention of it to him. This whole fiasco is just too unbelievable. Common sense again tells me what he's telling us is all BS

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zeev10 mjd685 March 28 2014 at 3:50 PM

Sampson just resigned from the Port Authority. Rats leaving the sinking ship!

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littlebirdbaked March 28 2014 at 12:47 PM

The report said Sokolich brought up the possibility of endorsing Christie but ultimately decided against it and that even after that decision, the mayor remained on a list of Democrats whom Christie considered appointing to various boards." Your Say...
Then why did Christie say at his 2 hour press conference that he didn't even know who Sokolich was, never heard of him, and wouldn't know him if he was standing right in front of him? Also, they seem to be throwing Bridget Kelly under the bus again...she and Wildstein should spill the beans.

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lenzy74 March 28 2014 at 12:56 PM

Anyone putting money ahead of common sense does not deserve to be an elected official. Another containment of our liberties in the
Tesla vs dealers situation!

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rpf612 March 28 2014 at 4:44 PM

Maybe you think wasting a million dollars of New Jersey's money could make you look innocent. But you were wrong. I was waiting for the real legal probes to be concluded before judging you. Not anymore. It is so obvious that you were aware of "Bridgegate."

I understand that you are liked in New Jersey so please stay there and keep New Jersey and the rest of America happy. Most of the other 49 states don't want any part of you.

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