Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher LLP, the high-powered law firm hired by the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in January to conduct an internal review into the “Bridgegate” scandal released its report Thursday. As expected, the lawyers, who received at least $US1 million in legal fees paid for by state taxpayers exonerate the governor and found no evidence he played a role in last September’s lane closures on the George Washington Bridge or an alleged scheme to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid funds from Hoboken, N.J. unless the mayor there approved a real estate development.
According to the report, the attorneys conducted “interviews with more than 70 witnesses” and reviewed “more than 250.000 documents” to investigate the allegations surrounding the bridge closures and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim Christie administration officials threatened to keep Sandy relief funds from her city unless she approved a project proposed by developers represented by a law firm founded by a close ally of the governor. The lane closures led to widespread gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J. for four days in September 2013. Some Democrats have alleged they were ordered by Christie’s allies because Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich declined to endorse the governor’s re-election bid last year. The lane closures and the Christie administration’s handling of Sandy funds are being investigated by the New Jersey legislator and federal prosecutors.
Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher’s report concluded Christie’s ex-deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, and David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, both “knowingly participated” in the plan to shut the lanes “at least in some part, for some ulterior motive to target Mayor Sokolich.” Prior to the closures, Kelly wrote an infamous email to Wildstein declaring it was, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
However, in spite of finding Kelly and Wildstein orchestrated the closures to “target” Sokolich, the report declared the idea his endorsement was the reason the lanes were shut was “not established by the evidence that we have seen.”
“What motivated the act is not yet clear,” the report said of the decision to close the lanes.
The report found two other Christie allies, his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni “knew” about the plan to close the lanes “in advance,” but were not aware of any “ulterior motive.” Port Authority officials initially said the lanes were shut for a “traffic study.” Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher’s report also noted Kelly and Stepien were “personally involved” for several months last year though the “relationship” eventually “cooled” and they “largely stopped speaking” by August, the month before the closures.
The Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher report concluded Christie played no role in the closures and that no members of his staff besides Kelly were involved in the decision to shut the lanes.
“Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” the report said. “We have not found any evidence of any other member of the Governor’s staff, besides Bridget Kelly, being involved in the decision to realign these George Washington Bridge toll lanes at Fort Lee.”
The report completely dismissed Zimmer’s accusations about Sandy aid.
“Our investigation found that Mayor Zimmer’s allegations are, in material respects, demonstrably false. They are contradicted by contemporaneous documents, other witnesses’ accounts, and her own prior statements,” said the report.
In light of the findings regarding the lane closures, the report made a series of recommendations to the governor’s office including; establishing restrictions on staffers using personal emails for official business, appointing both an “ombudsperson within the governor’s office” and a “chief ethics officer.” The report also advised Christie’s office to work with the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a commission to recommend reforms to “restructure the Port Authority,” which is a bi-state agency.
Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher attorneys are currently holding a press conference at their office in Manhattan to discuss the report. We will provide further updates as we read through the documents and hear their statements.
Read the full report below.
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