The Christie internal investigation report of the Fort Lee/George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal, released and defended by Christie counsel Randy Mastro at a news conference on Thursday, is a defense document, as one would expect from a defense attorney. Here are five sure signs:
1. The report reads like a defense document. Every uncertainty, or evidence with potentially dual implications, is interpreted in New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's favor. When evidence negative to the Governor seemingly cannot be denied -- most notably David Wildstein's claim that he can prove he informed Christie of the lane closings at the time of the closings -- it is explained away. According to Mastro: "The governor recalled seeing Mr. Wildstein, but does not recall the specifics of that conversation or the mention of any traffic issue in Fort Lee." This memory lapse was due to Christie's being overwhelmed by the emotions of the 9/11 celebration.
2. The fall guys are still the fall guys. Wildstein, who was appointed to his Port Authority position by Christie, and Bridget Anne Kelly, an inner-circle Christie aide, were let go in the immediate aftermath of the revelation of emails pointing to their involvement in the scandal, continue to be the fall guys -- the sole Christie associates or staff who conceived and executed the lane closings. The report is unstinting in its damning of Kelly, a seemingly unlikely instigator of such a bold scheme. The report accuses Wildstein and Ms. Kelly of evidently having "an ulterior motive," but the report has no idea of what that was. The report also casts aspersions on Wildstein's and Kelly's use of the 5th Amendment for self-protection -- a technique which might get defense counsel thrown out of an actual courtroom. Mastro's aspersions seem designed to preempt any efforts by Wildstein and Kelly to make contrary claims or provide alternative information or narratives.
3. The Governor's close allies are protected. At the same time, Christie campaign manager and political intimate Bill Stepien was exonerated by the report, even though Christie fired him at the same time as he did Kelly. This left Stepien's attorney, Kevin Marino, crying the blues: "I am left with a single, unavoidable question: 'Why did the governor sever ties with Bill Stepien?'" Moreover, in its single oddest element, the report defended Stepien as a kind of victim by indicating he and Kelly had had an affair which had ended, and insinuating that this might have motivated Kelly. Like Wildstein and Kelly, Stepien refused to provide information or documents to the Christie investigation. But nothing is implied about this refusal by Stepien, or the similar lack of cooperation by David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority, New Jersey kingmaker, and long-time Christie intimate and benefactor.
4. Political scores are settled. The one other person in addition to Kelly for which the report removed its gloves was Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who accused the Christie Administration of withholding Hurricane Sandy relief money from her town for her refusal to knuckle under to Christie and associates' demands to favor a developer client of Samson's law firm. Here -- as in many other places -- the report provided warmed-over Christie defense material, in this case Zimmer's praise for and openness to Christie despite her claim to having been threatened for her failure to give into political threats from the Christie team.
5. As in all defense documents, the report turned up no evidence of any kind suggesting the slightest wrongdoing on the Governor's part, or even his indifference or negligence in allowing this brouhaha to develop without his being aware of it. As I indicated in The Huffington Post following Christie's vaunted post-scandal news conference, the surest sign it was a sham and a whitewash was:
He didn't reveal any new offenses or guilty parties other than those who had already been identified. As always occurs in scandals like these, Christie was back-filling, accounting for the misbehavior already known to have occurred while offering no new information or insights himself. If someone you worked closely with committed a comparable act, don't you think you or your colleagues could find some tracks she had left, other cohorts or enablers, or similar actions in the past?
And the same applies to the Christie Bridgegate investigation report and the Mastro news conference.
Stanton Peele's new book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim your Life with The PERFECT Program.