UK & World News

  • 27 March 2014, 21:29

Christie 'Cleared' Over Bridgegate Scandal

Lawyers appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to investigate the so-called "bridgegate" scandal have cleared him of wrongdoing.

And they have blamed staff for secretly orchestrating the partial closure of one of the world's busiest bridges.

The internal investigation was conducted by a team of lawyers at Mr Christie's request.

It came after the governor's office was accused of shutting down three lanes of traffic and causing a huge jam last September in order to punish a local mayor, who had not endorsed Mr Christie for re-election.

Mr Christie repeatedly denied any of his team were involved in the fiasco, which involved the George Washington Bridge and affected the small New Jersey town of Fort Lee.

But in January he was forced to fire his then deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly after it emerged she had sent a text to a colleague with control over bridges and tunnels in the area saying: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee?"

Since then, the New Jersey Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate has faced repeated questions about whether he or anyone else in his team knew about the plan.

Lead lawyer Randy Mastro said: "What we found was that Governor Christie had no involvement in the decision to close these lanes and no prior knowledge of it."

Instead the report blames Bridget Kelly and the recipient of her text at the Port Authority David Wildstein.

It said: "(Kelly and Wildstein) knowingly participated in this plan to realign toll lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee, at least in part, for some ulterior motive to target Mayor Sokolich."

The report also said Ms Kelly lied to her colleagues when questioned, and asked a junior member of staff to delete a potentially incriminating email.

It said the lawyers were unable to establish what the "ulterior motive" was, but suggested it may have been nothing to do with a lack of endorsement.

The report said Mr Christie's then campaign manager Bill Stepien, who was subsequently sacked, and Bill Baroni, then deputy executive director of the Port Authority, were also involved, but to a lesser extent.

It said: "(Stepien and Baroni) 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."

The report went on: "Governor Christie's account of these events rings true. It is corroborated by many witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide."

One paragraph of the report described a tense staff meeting following the discovery that Ms Kelly had apparently been involved

It said: "It was an emotional session, in which the Governor, welling up with tears, expressed shock at the revelations, directed Kelly's immediate firing for lying to him, and also decided to sever ties with Stepien."

The investigating lawyers did not interview those they blamed for the traffic nightmare, citing their lack of co-operation.

State and federal investigations in to the matter are ongoing.

New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation Co-Chairs, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg released a statement saying:

"Lawyers hired by and paid by the Christie administration itself to investigate the governor's office who then say the governor and most of his office did nothing wrong will not be the final word on this matter.

"The people of New Jersey need a full accounting of what happened. This review has deficiencies that raise questions about a lack of objectivity and thoroughness.

"We will continue to pursue our investigation wherever the facts lead. We want a full accounting of the lane closings and any related abuses of power and what can be done to ensure this doesn't happen again."