This post has been updated.
In an overwhelming display of lawlerly muscle, Governor Chris Christie and his $650-per-hour attorneys from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher—led by the chief attorney hired by Christie, Randy Mastro, a former aide to Rudy Giuliani—released a 300-page-plus report, backed by 610 supporting documents and more than 1,000 footnotes saying that the New Jersey governor is innocent of all charges.
Mastro, who once served as Giuliani’s chief of staff and as deputy mayor for operations, then held a lengthy news conference to take questions on the report’s conclusions.
Ironically, several of the people mixed up in the lane-closing scandal at the George Washington Bridge—and who were extensively investigated by Mastro’s team—also worked for Giuliani, including Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien. (Christie and Giuliani have a close relationship, and the New Jersey governor has drawn a number of top aides from Giuliani’s team, including from his failed presidential bid, among them Maria Comella, his communications director; Mike DuHaime, a senior political adviser; Matt Mowers, the campaign aide who tried to get the mayor of Fort Lee to endorse Christie’s reelection and who is now the executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party; and Amanda DePalma, Christie’s former deputy campaign manager who now heads the New Jersey GOP.)
Taking advantage of what he hopes is positive momentum coming out of the release of the Mastro report, Christie will appear on ABC World News Tonight this evening, answering questions from Diane Sawyer. The New Jersey governor hasn’t taken press questions or held a new conference since January 9, eleven weeks ago.
The fact that the report was commissioned and paid for by Christie, and carried out by a team of loyalists—though Mastro was at pains during the news conference to stress the fact that he’s a Democrat who’s also worked for Mayor Bill DeBlasio—will mean that it’s conclusions will be suspect, at least until the other inquiries are concluded. Both the US attorney’s office in New Jersey, under Paul Fishman, and a joint committee of the legislature are investigating Bridgegate, the Port Authority and allegations of misuse of Sandy aid.
According to Mastro, none of the allegations hold water. He says that he and his team interviewed more than seventy witnesses and reviewed more than 250,000 documents, “including the personal texts and emails of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and their current senior officers.” Skeptics at the news conference pointed out that Mastro did not interview with Kelly or Stepien, but Mastro responded by saying that so far neither the US attorney not the legislators have interviewed them, either, since they’ve claimed Fifth Amendment protection and refused to release documents that investigators have sought. Oddly, the Mastro report does reveal that Kelly, who was Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Stepien, his former campaign manager and political strategist, had a “personal” relationship, i.e., an affair—but it wasn’t clear why the affair, long gossiped about in New Jersey politics, had anything to do with Bridgegate. Nor did Mastro’s team interview David Wildstein, who apparently plotted the lane closings in tandem with Kelly, and David Samson, the conflict-of-interest-plagued chairman of the Port Authority.
But, even though they didn’t get access to documents and emails from Kelly and Stepien, Mastro said that they did review all of Kelly’s and Stepien’s communications with the governor, his senior staff and others. Mastro could not adequately answer questions about whether or not Christie had one-on-one verbal conversations with Kelly, Wildstein and/or Stepien about the lane closings. Christie himself, says Mastro, has no memory of any conversation with any of them about the George Washington Bridge.
Mastro says that Kelly and Wildstein were the principal actors in Bridgegate, and that Stepien—whose affair with Kelly had “cooled” by early August 2013—may not have had any advance knowledge about ulterior motives behind the lane closings. (What those “ulterior motives” may have been, Mastro didn’t say.)
Mastro said in the report that when Christie found out, only in early January, that Kelly et al. lied to him about the lane closings, he called together his staff, and that “it was an emotional session in which the governor, welling up with tears, expressed shock at the revelations.” Christie fired Kelly outright, without once asking her why she did it. In the news conference, Mastro couldn’t explain why Christie wouldn’t have asked Kelly about the events.
After the release of Mastro’s report, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, who co-chair the legislative committee looking into the Christie scandals, said:
“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.”
Your Christie Watch reporters will wade through the massive data dump and track reactions. To be continued.