Democrats are insisting a report that found “no conclusive evidence” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was involved in last September’s controversial closure of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge last September doesn’t mean his “Bridgegate” woes are over.
The lane closures led to days of gridlock and delayed emergency responses in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the bridge. Some Democrats have alleged they were ordered to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for declining to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. The report was compiled by Reid Schar, a former federal prosecutor hired by the state legislature’s special committee dedicated to investigating the closures. Details of its contents appeared in an article published by the Bergen Record newspaper late Thursday evening.
However, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D), one of the co-chairs of the committee, told Business Insider on Friday that the report was by no means an exoneration of Christie.
“This is known as an interim report that was done by Reid Schar. It was not done by the committee. … It was released without any authorization for it to be released,” Weinberg said. “To call it clearing, ending, those are words that I wouldn’t apply to this.”
Documents subpoenaed by the legislative committee found aides in the governor’s office were involved in discussions about the closures. Weinberg noted this information was summarized by Schar’s report.
“If you read the report, this obviously reached into the highest levels of the governor’s office,” she said.
Weinberg also argued the investigation into the closures was leading to reform. She pointed out it sparked changes at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, and the closure of a controversial unit in Christie’s office that managed relationships with local officials and focused on building relationships that could help the governor’s re-election effort.
“It has already resulted, thankfully, in changes at the Port Authority … and it has resulted in at least one major change in the governor’s office, the closing down of the Intergovernmental Affairs office,” said Weinberg of the investigation.
An internal investigation conducted by lawyers hired by the governor’s office also concluded two officials “knowingly participated” in a scheme to “target” Sokolich by ordering the lane closures. Christie cut ties with several of these staffers and, after the internal investigation was concluded in March, denounced two of them.
However, the internal probe found “Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes.” Randy Mastro, the attorney leading the governor’s investigation, told Business Insider there was “not a shred” of written evidence Christie was involved in orchestrating or ordering the lane closures. Mastro’s report was subsequently dismissed by many of Christie’s critics as a biased waste of taxpayer funds.
After the details of Schar’s report became public, Christie’s office released a statement from Mastro. He argued the report showed the committee was in agreement with his internal investigation.
“The committee has finally acknowledged what we reported nine months ago — namely, that there is not a shred of evidence Governor Christie knew anything about the GWB lane realignment beforehand or that any current member of his staff was involved in that decision,” Mastro said. “Thus, the committee’s work has simply corroborated our comprehensive investigation. And with this inquiry behind it, the governor and his office can now focus on doing what they do best — serving the public interest.”
However, Weinberg told Business Insider the committee has not yet finished its probe.
“It will be up to the committee now to decide what to do with the report,” she said.
Weinberg also pointed out U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is conducting his own investigation of the closures, which has not concluded. Due to the federal investigation, Weinberg said the committee has been unable to question key witnesses including David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who has said he informed Christie about the closures as they were taking place.
“We have chosen, because of immunity problems, not to interview these folks while the U.S. attorney’s investigation is still going on,” said Weinberg. “We can’t pose those questions yet.”
Mastro’s report said Christie did not “recall” having been told about the closures.
Weinberg isn’t the only Democrat who insisted Christie’s Bridgegate troubles weren’t over after Schar’s report. Democratic National Press Secretary Michael Czin emailed out a statement in response to the report on Friday wherein he argued it “raises more troubling questions about Christie’s involvement in Bridgegate and its aftermath.”
“WNYC is reporting that 12 text messages exchanged between Christie and one of his top aides during the scandal have been deleted, and the New York Times reports that Christie’s own public comments about his awareness of the scandal have been inaccurate and inconsistent with reality,” wrote Czin. “With multiple investigations ongoing, including by the U.S. Attorney, Chris Christie is far from putting Bridgegate behind him, and we’re all left to wonder: what else is the Christie administration lying about?”
Christie, who is widely seen as a potential Republican 2016 presidential candidate, saw his poll numbers drop due to the scandal. His office did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on Friday.
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