Christie's Bridge Report Is an Embarrassment
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie should ask for his money back. Or, rather, the taxpayers' money.
The report commissioned by the governor on the George Washington Bridge scandal was released yesterday. Spearheaded by former Rudolph Giuliani aide Randy Mastro and his law firm colleagues, the report reaches the exact conclusion that Christie had previously reached himself: The wackadoo lane closures on the bridge were exclusively the work of two rotten apples who were attempting to achieve, well, something about an unspecified "ulterior motive."
Christie "had no prior knowledge of this lane-closure idea," Mastro told reporters. How does Mastro know this? The rotten apples theory explains all.
It goes like this: Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein, whom Christie had appointed to a $150,000 a year patronage job at the Port Authority, decided, for reasons no one else in Christie world apparently understands, to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for, ostensibly, his failure to endorse Christie's re-election. And the method of punishment chosen was jamming traffic at the west entry to the George Washington Bridge.
It was Kelly who sent the Aug. 13 e-mail to Wildstein stating: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Wildstein, who subsequently ordered the lanes closed, replied: "Got it."
Just two crazy kids bringing traffic to a halt on the nation's busiest bridge. Was it love? Perhaps. Although that only explains the girl's actions, according to Mastro. (Wildstein, remember, is the high school loser now shunned by the cool Christie. Loser boys never get the girl.) Mastro speculatedthat Kelly was feeling blue over being dumped by Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien, who isn't mentioned much in the report. And because Stepien, who was Kelly's superior, and Kelly might not have been communicating well due to their relationship difficulties, Stepien is obviously above suspicion.
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.
Yes, because statewide campaign managers are always informed of obscure traffic studies, but political operatives never share juicy details of political actions with their politician bosses or their political colleagues.
Baroni isn't mentioned much, either. The day the traffic came to a halt, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich "phoned Wildstein's Port Authority boss, Bill Baroni about an 'urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee,'" the Mastro report stated. "Instead of returning the call, Baroni forwarded the message to Wildstein's personal email account."
So one of Christie's top appointees at an institution he stocked with political hires gets a public official's phone call about an "urgent matter of public safety." And he forwards that message to the personal e-mail account of one of the two rotten apples.
It's almost -- almost -- as if Baroni might possibly have known something fishy was going on.
At Christie's landmark Jan. 9 news conference, the governor carefully presented the two rotten apples case. He singled out Kelly, calling her a liar a dozen different ways. His portrayal of Wildstein laid the basis for a future attack on Wildstein as resentful loser. Christie denigrated him at enormous, unseemly length. I suppose it's possible that the governor of a large state, at his moment of maximum peril, with his reputation, career and perhaps more on the line, deeply cares about who was cool in his high school. But I doubt it.
The report presents all aspects of the bridge story from Christie's point of view, as a busy man with no time for high school losers and their tales of traffic.
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.
You would expect lawyers from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP to be better than that. If you're going to be paid $650 an hour to whitewash some implausible story, shouldn't you do a more sophisticated job? At times, the narrative is simply embarrassing:
The Governor became concerned about what he was hearing and demanded straight answers from his senior staff. On December 12, 2013, he had further inquiries made of Kelly and Stepien. Both denied any involvement in the decision to close these lanes.
Kelly and Stepien were part of Christie's inner circle. He "had further inquiries made" of them? What does that even mean? What kind of action -- and by whom? -- makes such tortured language necessary? And the flourish of the straight-talking gov demanding "straight answers" is too hackneyed to pass freshman comp.
And by December 2013, as hearsay and rumors filtered back to some in the Governor's Office about Kelly's possible involvement, there was follow-up and questioning of Kelly, who denied it.
Who would be the source of such rumors, months after the fact, about Kelly's involvement? Kelly had no legitimate role at the Port Authority. To blow Kelly's cover, someone had to have an inkling of what she was up to. But everyone in Christie world is so busy talking straight and doing public good, who had time to suspect her and her unfathomable ulterior motives?
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. And we have not found any evidence of any other member of the Governor's staff, besides Bridget Kelly, doing anything to cover up what happened here after the fact. There were members of the Governor's staff who became aware of the lane realignment during or after the fact, but they understood from Wildstein or Baroni, apparently relying on information provided him by Wildstein, that this was a legitimate traffic study, no matter how misguided the Port Authority's execution of it, and therefore an operational issue for the Port Authority to deal with, not the Governor's Office.
Here's the best line of the whole report: "Governor Christie's account of these events rings true."
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To contact the author on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org