"Vindicated" is the headline. It is exactly what Governor Chris Christie had hoped for when he decided to use $1 million New Jersey taxpayer dollars to hire a friendly law firm to investigate his own governor's office. The investigation focused on last September's lane closures at the Fort Lee, New Jersey, entrance of the George Washington Bridge.
The investigation was headed by New York attorney Randy Mastro, who is close to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, himself a big Christie defender. Mastro announced the findings of the lengthy report, which he described as "comprehensive and exhaustive," to reporters on Thursday. The report states that Governor Christie "did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign lanes." It laid the blame for the incident on former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, and former New Jersey/New York Port Authority official, and Christie childhood friend, David Wildstein. While Mastro said that the idea originated with Wildstein, his investigation did not uncover any motive for the shutdown.
Mastro, and a team of about 12 lawyers, reviewed emails, text messages and interviewed about 70 officials, including Governor Christie. The internal investigation was not limited to just the bridge lane closures. Mastro described as "demonstrably false" accusations by Hoboken New Jersey Mayor Dawn Zimmer of a pay to play scandal. Mayor Zimmer alleged that her city's access to Hurricane Sandy relief funds was contingent upon approval of a real estate project that some Christie supporters strongly supported. The multimillion-dollar project had been stalled, and close Christie friend, and port authority appointee, David Samson had an interest in the outcome.
Mastro defended the impartiality of his Christie investigation, saying, "This is a search for the truth, and we believe we have gotten the truth." But Mastro did not interview the key players in the bridge closure, Bridget Anne Kelly, David Wildstein and Bill Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager. All of them were cut loose by Christie, and all of them are angling for immunity from federal and state legislative investigators.
And many questions remain -- perhaps for federal investigators to answer. Why would David Wildstein concoct a plan to close bridge lanes, as Mastro stated? Why would Bridget Anne Kelly send Wildstein an email calling for traffic problems in Ft. Lee? What is the relationship between Stepien and Kelly? At a minimum, Governor Christie has been exposed as a poor judge of character when it comes to staff, and a very poor manager.
Even worse for Christie, the ongoing coverage of both scandals has revealed Christie as highly political and a big bully. So even if federal and state legislative investigators are unable to prove that Christie gave the order for the bridge closures, or had advanced knowledge, he has no chance of becoming the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2016. That would be a bridge too far.