New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had nothing to do with the controversial lane closures on the George Washington Bridge last fall, the lawyers he hired claim in a forthcoming report.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the high-profile law firm Christie retained to conduct an inquiry into the scandal dubbed Bridgegate, will soon release a report maintaining there’s “no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings,” according to The New York Times. It’s not clear when this Christie-commissioned report, the first of several reports on the lane closings, will be released, but Christie “has promised to make it public quickly without alterations.”
The report, consisting of some 70 interviews as well as extensive reviews of documents, will cost New Jersey taxpayers at least $1 million. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which has long served as Christie’s personal counsel, charged $650 per hour. Newsweek noted in January that this is approximately twice the rate charged by the lawyer leading the Legislature’s Bridgegate investigation, former federal prosecutor Reid Schar. (The Asbury Park Press reported that Schar gets “$350 per hour.”)
The man leading Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s investigation, Randy Mastro, told the Times that his team has no reason to tread lightly with Christie and that competing investigations, including the Legislature’s inquiry and that of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, will reveal any problems with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s report.
Those familiar with the inquiry told the Times it will include a “detailed narrative of the events, motivations and communications leading up to the closing of the lanes” as well as whether and what Christie knew about the events. The report is also expected to explain “the structure, practices and culture of the Christie administration that contributed to the scandal and issue pointed recommendations to prevent such conduct.”
The Times is quick to point out that many aspects of the report will raise eyebrows. For starters, there’s the fact that Christie hired this firm, which will likely prompt the exonerative report to be “viewed with intense skepticism.”
There’s also the fact that the firm, hired by Christie “to bring an outside, third-party perspective to the situation,” is linked inextricably to the embattled governor.
Mastro worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York and as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s chief of staff and deputy mayor of operations—making Mastro “at least the eighth Giuliani staffer to join Team Christie over the years,” Reuters reported when the hiring was announced. The Times also notes that “Christie is friendly with a top partner there, Debra Wong Yang, who, like him, was appointed United States attorney by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s.”
A dozen Gibson Dunn lawyers interviewed “the governor and lieutenant governor, every current member of Mr. Christie’s senior staff and top New Jersey officials at the Port Authority,” and got access to their email accounts and phone records. But the firm was not able to interview three main players in the scandal.
Bridget Anne Kelly, who penned the now notorious “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” text message, declined to be interviewed. David Wildstein (Christie’s “ally at the Port Authority,” according to the Times), who swapped jocular emails with Kelly about traffic problems, also declined. Bill Stepien, who worked as Christie’s aide and campaign manager, bowed out as well.
Neither Mastro nor Christie’s office could immediately be reached for comment.
Mastro told the Times, however, that he’s confident about the report, describing it as “comprehensive and exhaustive.”