Lawyers from the firm of Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher LLP who were hired by the office of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to conduct an internal review of the “Bridgegate” allegations plaguing his administration released their report Thursday and noted a former official claimed he told the governor about the closures at the center of the scandal. The report said Christie did not “recall” having been told about the lane shutdown.
The lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last September caused days of gridlock in Fort Lee, N.J. Some Democrats have said they were ordered to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for declining to endorse the governor’s re-election bid last year. These allegations are currently the subject of multiple investigations including one being conducted by a special committee established by the New Jersey Legislature.
Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher’s report described David Wildstein, a former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, as one of two officials who “knowingly participated” in the plan to shut the lanes as part of an effort to “target Mayor Sokolich.” Wildstein, who attended high school with Christie in the 1970’s, resigned his position at the Port Authority last December as questions about the closures mounted.
According to the report, at the time of his resignation, Wildstein discussed the closures with top Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak. According to the report, Wildstein told Drewniak shutting the lanes was his “idea,” but maintained the initial explanation the closures were part of a “traffic study” was correct. He also claimed others knew about the plan to shut the lanes, including Christie’s ex-deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien, and the governor himself.
“While [Wildstein] 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 Drewniak that he had not acted alone, identifying Kelly and Stepien as others who knew, and claiming he had emails to prove it,” the report said. “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.”
The report noted Drewniak “passed on Wildstein’s claims to others in the Governor’s Office.”
Kelly is the other official the report described as having “knowingly participated” in the plan to shut the lanes “at least in some part, for some ulterior motive to target Mayor Sokolich.” However, the report said the reason behind the attack on Sokolich is “not yet clear” and the idea it was related to his endorsement in the gubernatorial race was “not established by the evidence that we have seen.”
The report found Stepien, the other person described by Wildstein as having been informed about the closures, knew of them “in advance,” but was not aware “of the ulterior motive here, besides the claimed purpose of conducting a traffic study.” It also noted Kelly and Stepien were involved in a “personal relationship” prior to the closures last year. However, the report said their relationship had “cooled” by August 2013 and they had “largely stopped speaking” afterwards/
Documents subpoenaed as part of the Legislature’s investigation into the closures documented an infamous email exchange between Kelly and Wildstein in August 2013, about a month before the closures. In that conversation, Kelly told Wildstein it was, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
“Got it,” Wildstein replied.
Christie fired Kelly and asked Stepien to withdraw his candidacy for chair of the New Jersey Republican Party in January. Attorneys for both Stepien and Kelly have been attempting to quash subpoenas issued to them by the Legislature’s committee investigating the closures by arguing forcing them to testify would be a violation of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Wildstein appeared before the committee in January and also invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, which led the committee to vote to hold him in contempt.
Read the full report here.
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