An investigation commissioned by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and carried out by attorneys close to the governor has absolved Christie of wrongdoing in the "Bridgegate" scandal, finding that he had no prior knowledge of lane closings ordered by one of his senior aides.
A report published Thursday by the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which summarizes findings from more than 250,000 documents and interviews with more than 70 people, concluded Christie "did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes."
Instead, the report lays full blame for the lanes closures, which were apparently carried out for political retribution and affected access to the George Washington Bridge for drivers coming from Fort Lee, N.J., for four days in September, on Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and a New Jersey Port Authority official, David Wildstein. Another Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, and Christie's former campaign manager Bill Stepien, knew about the plan in advance but did not know of the reasoning behind it, the report said.
"Whatever motivated Wildstein and Kelly to act as they did, it was not at the behest of Gov. Christie, who knew nothing about it," the report concludes.
Wildstein, Kelly and Stepien were not interviewed for the report and have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights in a separate investigation being carried out by the New Jersey legislature.
Democrats have criticized Christie for commissioning his own investigation into the Bridgegate scandal and have cast aspersions on the objectivity of the findings.
“Chris Christie spent a million taxpayer dollars in an effort to clear himself of wrongdoing," said Democratic National Committee communications director Mo Elleithee. "But what did we actually learn today? Not much."
But the report did offer a glimpse into the inner workings of Christie's office in the lead-up to, and aftermath of, the scandal.
Prior to the lane closures, the report reveals, Kelly and Stepien were apparently "personally involved, although, by early August 2013, their personal relationship had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s choice, and they largely stopped speaking."
The report also portrays the governor as transitioning from angry with his staff as the controversy unfolds to grief-stricken when he learns of Kelly's involvement and her attempted cover-up.
In a Dec. 13 meeting, Christie is said to have warned his senior aides, “The spotlight can turn to a searchlight real quick," and he demanded that anyone involved come forward before he met with the press.
When the scandal came publicly to light Jan. 8, Christie met with top aides at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion. The report described "an emotional session, in which the Governor, welling up with tears, expressed shock at the revelations, directed Kelly’s immediate firing for lying to him, and also decided to sever ties with Stepien."
The Bridgegate scandal has dogged Christie and his administration for weeks as the New Jersey legislature and U.S. attorney have continued to carry out separate investigations into the matter. The controversy has also threatened to torpedo a potential presidential bid by Christie should proof emerge that he had any prior knowledge of or involvement in the lane closures.