Official Says He Told Christie of Bridge Lane Closings, According to Report
By MICHAEL BARBARO and MARC SANTORA
MARCH 27, 2014
The Port Authority official who oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge said he informed Gov. Chris Christie about it at a Sept. 11 memorial while the closings were occurring, according to the findings of an internal investigation released by lawyers for the governor on Thursday.
The official, David Wildstein, told Mr. Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, of the Sept. 11 conversation at a dinner in December just before his resignation from the Port Authority, according to the report.
The report said that Mr. Christie did not recall any such conversation, and it found no evidence that he was involved in the scheme, which snarled traffic for thousands of commuters in Fort Lee, N.J., from Sept. 9 through the morning of Sept. 12.
It was one of many revelations unearthed by the inquiry — commissioned by Mr. Christie’s office in the days after the scandal erupted, and costing taxpayers more than $1 million in legal fees — into what prompted the lane closings and what role his administration played in it. At times, it reads like a point-by-point defense of the New Jersey governor, a Republican. Mr. Wildstein’s version of his encounter with the governor was only briefly mentioned.
Randy M. Mastro, the lawyer who led the internal investigation, presented it at a news conference in Manhattan on Thursday at which he defended the report under heated questioning. Two other investigations, by the State Legislature and federal prosecutors, are continuing.
“We know that David Wildstein alleged that he spoke to the governor at a public event about the traffic issue during the week of the lane closure,” Mr. Mastro said. The only event the two attended together at that time was a memorial for Sept. 11, he said.
“The governor recalled seeing Mr. Wildstein,” Mr. Mastro said. He recalled a brief interaction, he said, “but does not recall the specifics of that conversation or the mention of any traffic issue in Fort Lee.”
“The governor points out that the mention of a traffic issue in Fort Lee would not have been memorable or meaningful,” Mr. Mastro added.
The plan to close the lanes was orchestrated by Mr. Wildstein, according to the report, and approved by Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff until he fired her in January.
However, the report could not answer one central question: Why?
Mr. Wildstein and Ms. Kelly evidently had “an ulterior motive,” but the investigation could not determine what it was.
“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 stated.
No other members of the governor’s staff were involved in the lane closings, the report found.
The lawyers were not able to interview Mr. Wildstein or Ms. Kelly, who is fighting requests from state investigators to turn over personal materials related to the scandal, raising questions about the internal report’s thoroughness.
In a letter released on Jan. 31, Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer said that “evidence exists” that Mr. Christie knew about the lane closings while they were happening. It was unclear from the letter what the evidence was, or whether he was referring to the meeting at the Sept. 11 memorial. Mr. Mastro, in his news conference Thursday, assumed he was.
Mr. Mastro spent much of the news conference defending the internal investigation as both objective and worth the cost to taxpayers.
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