New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's million dollar internal investigation of Bridgegate has determined that the governor did not know what was going on and did not authorize the lane closures. But the report raises more questions than answers.
While the report, delivered by New York City Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro, serves as a public relations plot for the governor, it remains to be seen if this report can be accepted by the public and by the other investigations that surround Christie. The report, financed entirely by the taxpayer and sanctioned by the governor's office, still is questionable as is it a way to clear the governor of New Jersey or a way to help Chris Christie?
Many of the questions raised by Mastro's investigation focus on the process. The internal probe was completed fairly quickly and without cooperation from a number of witnesses who could shed a lot of light on the situation. The inability or reluctance to interview all individuals with relevant information is one important factor that should be used when evaluating the quality of Gibson Dunn's investigation. Among those who did not cooperate with Christie's probe were Bill Stepien, Bridget Kelly, David Wildstein and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer. With the first three central to the Bridgegate investigation and Mayor Zimmer alleging that the lieutenant governor threatened to withhold funding for her city at the governor's behest, it is imperative that any credible probe be complete and have as much information as possible.
With Wildstein's attorney saying that they could have evidence that shows Christie's public statements on Bridgegate do not match up with reality, there are still more questions about Mastro's probe. When you look at who Mastro spoke to, they are people who have one big thing in common, they all hold jobs where they serve at Christie's pleasure. How many of them would want to say something that Mastro could relay back to the governor and then possibly lose their job? And among these aides are people whose job description is to paint Christie in the best possible light possible, again how can we be sure they weren't doing that when talking to Mastro. Remember Mastro's probe did not take place under oath and does not carry the weight of the criminal investigation from the U.S. Attorney or the investigation being conducted by the State Legislature.
In addition, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno was included in the probe. While the lieutenant governor does hold her job for four years, Christie still wields two pieces of power over her. First he can shut her out of meetings and all of her duties are at the governor's pleasure. Second, with Christie term-limited, the lieutenant governor is automatically a frontrunner for the 2017 Republican gubernatorial nomination, a political dream Christie still has the power to quash.
Another hurdle Christie's investigation faces is the fact that government lawyers have expressed concern about the trend of superficiality in internal investigations expressing frustration with both the quality of internal investigations and in their view questionable defense council tactics.
"We are also seeing an increasing frequency of internal investigations that are not as objective and searching. These tend to be more like advocacy pieces." -- Ted Knutson Interview: SEC Enforcement Div. Director Robert Khuzami, Thomson Reuters News and Insight, April 25, 2012
With the U.S. Attorney's probe ongoing, it is clear that Governor Christie is employing the "ostrich defense" by saying on multiple fronts that he did not know what was going on in his own office. As the ultimate head of the governor's office and the executive branch of state government, there are serious questions on how he did not know any of the details of Bridgegate for as long as he claims he did not know. The governor's current statements remove him as even a credible witness in the federal probe.
In addition there have been questions raised in the media and others about the way Mastro conducted the probe by seeking handwritten notes, etc. from witnesses. Was he attempting to get to the bottom of Bridgegate for the benefit of the taxpayer or was he establishing what evidence could exist that could be used against Christie?
While this probe of Bridgegate has been finished, there are still too many unanswered questions, which will have far reaching implications for Christie. There is a good chance the U.S. Attorney and the State Legislature will not accept this result given the questions and there are questions on whether the public will do this for the same reasons. So at the end of the day, did the taxpayers of New Jersey just spend a million dollars to help one man?
Note: Ostrich defense is a actual defense defined in Blacks Law Dictionary.