Chris Christie was interviewed as part of an internal inquiry into politically motivated traffic jams, a spokesman for New Jersey’s governor said, after the New York Times (NYT) reported that the probe had cleared the state’s top official of direct involvement in the events.
The governor, a second-term Republican whose approval ratings have slid because of the controversy, handed over his own iPhone and provided access to his government and personal e-mail accounts as part of the review, spokesman Kevin Roberts said yesterday in an e-mail. Roberts declined to comment on the Times report absolving Christie, which cited people with knowledge of the inquiry who asked not to be identified.
Lawyers conducting the review were granted “complete and wide-ranging access” as they interviewed more than 70 people, including senior staff and officials at the Port Authority of New Jersey and New Jersey, Roberts said. The review “is not yet complete and therefore has not been delivered to the governor’s office or anyone else yet,” Roberts said.
Christie’s administration retained Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in January to assist with the review. Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor of New York City under Rudolph Giuliani, leads the team, which bills the state $650 an hour. Mastro declined to comment.
“From the very beginning, Governor Christie has made clear that the Gibson Dunn review team’s mandate is to get to the truth, no matter what it is,” Maria Comella, Christie’s communications director, said in a statement. “They have been given unfettered access to governor’s office staff, documents and other forms of communication to ensure they are able to provide as exhaustive a report as possible and to make substantive recommendations for improvements, as warranted.”
“This was a lengthy public-relations spin for what we’re supposed to believe rather than letting us read the report,” Loretta Weinberg, the Democratic Senate majority leader and co-chairwoman of the legislative investigatory committee, said in a telephone interview.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a Democrat from Sayreville who is co-chair with Weinberg, was traveling in Spain and didn’t immediately respond to questions e-mailed to him.
The Times reported yesterday that the internal review found no evidence the 51-year-old governor plotted or directed the lane closings. As part of the investigation, lawyers scoured the personal phones, as well as government and private e-mail accounts, of current and former administration members.
Separate investigations are also being conducted by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and by state lawmakers, who have issued 38 subpoenas so far as the Democratic-led review enters its third month. The approval ratings for Christie, a potential White House contender in 2016, dropped 20 percentage points since his re-election in November.
The scandal followed the closings of local access lanes at the George Washington Bridge from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12, which led to gridlock in the town of Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor didn’t endorse Christie for re-election. The governor’s former campaign manager William Stepien and Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly have refused to turn over documents to the legislative panel and have invoked their 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Christie in January cut ties to Stepien and fired Kelly, who sent an Aug. 13 e-mail to David Wildstein, a Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein, who ordered the closings, replied: “Got it.”
Dawn Zimmer, the Hoboken mayor who said Christie’s administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy aid if she didn’t back a real-estate project, rebuffed a request to be interviewed by Mastro. Stepien and Kelly also declined to take part, the Times reported.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, a Republican from Westwood who sits on the investigation panel, said she hasn’t seen an advance copy of the Mastro report and “based upon what the committee has reviewed thus far, the report would be consistent with what we’ve seen.”
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