A lawyer for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office set up a showdown with a state legislative committee by turning aside a call to produce transcripts of interviews of more than 70 witnesses in an internal probe of the George Washington Bridge lane closings.
The report, by the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, concluded on March 27 that Christie had no advance knowledge of a plot by an ex-aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, and a former ally, David Wildstein, to create traffic jams near the bridge. Those tie-ups were intended to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for unknown ulterior reasons, Gibson Dunn said.
Those conclusions drew sharp criticism from state Senator Loretta Weinberg and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who lead a panel investigating the tie-ups even as U.S. prosecutors probe for any crimes. The lawmakers want to see the interview notes and other documents Gibson Dunn used to produce its report. Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro yesterday declined the request, which the committee hasn’t formally made yet.
“The Governor’s Office is fully cooperating with the U.S. Attorney Office’s investigation, and in that regard, has not publicly released accounts of interviews conducted in connection with the Gibson Dunn investigation,” Mastro said in a statement released by Christie’s office.
“If the Joint Committee chooses to issue further subpoenas, the governor’s office will review and respond to them at that time,” Mastro said. He said his firm made the findings public in a 345-page report along with hundreds of supporting exhibits.
The scandal has tarnished the popularity of Christie, a Republican weighing a White House run in 2016.
Wisniewski said in an interview that lawyers for the committee will subpoena the documents from Gibson Dunn. He said Christie has changed his attitude toward the committee.
“This is a marked difference from what the governor said in January, when he said he would cooperate fully,” Wisniewski said. “The governor may be satisfied that the Gibson Dunn report accomplished what he wanted, but we still have to see a transcript or even a summary of a transcript to see what was said, and not through the filter of Randy Mastro.”
Christie commissioned the taxpayer-funded report about the traffic jams, which ran from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12. The governor endorsed the report’s findings in a news conference last week, as well as in television interviews with ABC and Fox News. He said he hoped to put the scandal behind him as the other inquiries proceed.
Weinberg and Wisniewski, both Democrats, said Mastro rushed to clear Christie after an incomplete investigation. Gibson Dunn was unable to interview several key witnesses, including Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff, and Wildstein, once a top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.
Kelly and Wildstein cited their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination during the criminal probe, as has former Christie campaign manager William Stepien. On Jan. 8, Christie fired Kelly and cut ties to Stepien. Wildstein resigned in December.
Kelly said in an e-mail on Aug. 13: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein replied: “Got it.”
The report depicted Kelly as a liar, who cried, “seemed emotional” in a key meeting with Christie and had her state of mind affected by a relationship with Stepien that he ended.
On March 28, Michael Critchley, an attorney for Kelly, said “the report’s venomous, gratuitous, and inappropriate sexist remarks concerning Ms. Kelly have no place in what is alleged to be a professional and independent report.”
In an interview yesterday, Weinberg said the report was sexist in its treatment of Kelly.
“Do I think that they presented a picture of Bridget Kelly in terms of this so-called personal relationship based upon no evidence?” Weinberg said. “Yes, I do. Do I think it was sexist? Yes, I do.
‘‘I’m not an attorney, but I’ve got an awful lot of life experience,” said Weinberg. “Anybody who put their name on that report should be ashamed of themselves. The treatment of Bridget Kelly is bad enough, but there’s nothing in there to show it’s true. They carried it a step further to prove a point about her emotional health. That is completely off the wall.”
Weinberg said if Mastro claims the interviews are protected as privileged communications between attorneys and clients, or as an attorney’s work product, “then the public cannot draw any conclusions that this report was done objectively.”
Wisniewksi said: “What did he write down in those notes that they don’t want us to see? If this was a full, unfettered and unconstrained investigation, whatever is in the notes should be fair game.”