Since the release of the self-commissioned investigative report by Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm run by an ally, Governor Christie has fought to stabilize his political future, and he’s taken steps to restart his 2016 presidential bid. That might be difficult in the face of four—count ‘em, four—separate investigations of the various scandals that have emerged since last fall, and as Christie Watch reports below, even the report by Christie’s own lawyers, though widely disparaged as a cover-up, provides all those investigators with leads that they can follow. Still, there are signs that Christie is getting some traction again, at least based on the results of recent polls.
According to a Fox News poll about would-be 2016 GOP candidates, Christie leads the field with 15 percent support, just ahead of Jeb Bush and Rand Paul. (Interestingly, though, in the Fox poll all three top candidates have unfavorability ratings that outweigh their favorability.) Christie also finished strong in a new McClatchy-Marist poll of all voters, comparing various Republicans in head-to-head matchups with Hillary Clinton, in which Clinton beats Christie by 53 to 42 percent. (Clinton bests Jeb Bush 55-39 percent in that poll.) And, in an interview with the Staten Island Advance, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, sounding downright bipartisan, says that Christie would be a “formidable” candidate:
“I’ve worked with him on both immigration reform and (Hurricane) Sandy, and he was a pleasure to work with,” said Schumer.… “People like genuine people. They are very good at smelling the real deal and smelling a phony. So, yeah, I think he could sell.”
But he added that
“if they find that he actually knew about this [Bridgegate] stuff, he’s a dead man. If they don’t, he could be a formidable candidate.”
Of course, “they” are trying to find out. The inquiries include actions by the US attorney in New Jersey, the US attorney in New York City, a brand-new one by the Manhattan district attorney, and a joint Senate-Assembly committee of the state legislature.
The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures will be calling people to testify next month about what they knew and when they knew it—and the committee just might ask Christie himself to appear before them, says Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the committee. Wisniewski says they’ll subpoena more than ten people to testify under oath. Last time around, in November, when the legislators heard testimony from former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni, they didn’t swear him in, but Wisniewski says they won’t make that mistake again. Back then, of course, Baroni argued that the lane closures were simply part of a “traffic study.” His testimony was soon discredited by the executive director of the PA, Patrick Foye, who did testify under oath.
The committee hasn’t specified yet who they’ll subpoena to testify, but they’re looking at a number of new people, thanks to interview summaries just released by Randy Mastro, the lawyer whom Christie hired to investigate Bridgegate and other scandals swirling around the Governor’s mansion. Even though Mastro is very close to Christie ally Rudy Giuliani (for whom Mastro served as deputy mayor), even though some of the interviews were conducted by a close friend of the governor’s, Debra Wong Yang, even though none of the interviews were conducted under oath, and even though Gibson Dunn & Crutcher supplied only summaries and not transcripts, there are some potentially juicy nuggets. Mastro’s firm interviewed more than seventy people for the report clearing the governor of any involvement in the Bridgegate, Hoboken and PA scandals.
The interview summaries in fact raise many new questions about how the Christie administration operated, says Wisniewski:
Clearly there are so many issues that are raised by the Mastro report and now further issues raised by the interview notes that it’s clear this administration used its resources as campaign tool in a very overt way.
Although Mastro’s report pinned the blame for the bridge scandal on two wayward aides, the interview summaries show that it was standard operating procedure for the Christie administration to punish local officials who did not support the governor and aid those who did. According to the Newark Star-Ledger:
Among the likely fodder for the committee are revelations that the [Inter-Governmental Affairs] unit in the governor’s office was acutely aware of which local officials were friendly toward the administration. During one interview, former IGA staffer Christina Renna told Mastro’s investigators that she often was told which mayor’s calls should be returned. Notes of Renna’s interview called them “mandatory directives” to ignore calls from certain local officials. Department of Community Affairs Director Richard Constable told Mastro and company that Kelly, who ran IGA, asked him to check with her before speaking with certain mayors, including Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who has said he was ignored by the administration once he made the decision not to endorse Christie.
Interviews with some state officials also seemed to bolster the accusation leveled by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that Christie administration officials, including Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable, held hostage aid to help Hoboken recover from Hurricane Sandy. Zimmer charged that the Christie administration tied the aid to her acquiescence on a multi-billion dollar development project linked to David Samson, former Port Authority chairman and close Christie ally. Mastro’s report disparaged Zimmer’s accusations.
But the newly released interview summaries Mastro used to reach his conclusions may in fact help support Zimmer’s claims. According to NJ Spotlight:
Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable discussed both the controversial Rockefeller Group high-rise project and Sandy aid with Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer at the time and place she said they did—a fact that probably would not have come out until after the U.S. Attorney’s Office finished its investigation a year from now, or perhaps not at all. Interview memos with Constable, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, and other officials contained numerous important details that they left out of their vehement public denunciations of Zimmer’s allegations in January, bolstering the credibility of Zimmer’s story that the Christie administration tied Sandy aid to the approval of a high-rise development represented by Christie ally David Samson.
Another interview summary, this one with Luciana DiMaggio, an assistant to Guadagno also seems to support Zimmer’s charges. It says:
DiMaggio observed that the Lieutenant Governor and Mayor Zimmer were deep in conversation. She said that it seemed to be a tense conversation. DiMaggio did not observe anyone getting angry or she would have stepped in, but it seemed that they were discussing something intently. DiMaggio recalled that they were not laughing and their faces seemed serious. DiMaggio did not remember anything else. She did not remember observing the Lieutenant Governor and Mayor Zimmer at the end of the conversation. DiMaggio remembered that the Lieutenant Governor communicated that she was frustrated with Mayor Zimmer. With her counsel present, DiMaggio said her memory is not 100% accurate, but she remembered that the Lieutenant Governor communicated to her that Mayor Zimmer was not cooperating, stating in words or in substance something like the Mayor was not playing ball or the Mayor was not playing well with others.