The internal investigation that was commissioned by the New Jersey governor paints a vivid portrait of a frustrated Chris Christie, who took to “slamming the door” in the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal.
The report, released Thursday by a team of lawyers with close ties to the governor, depicts Christie as a chief executive who became “visibly upset” when press stories emerged last December linking local lane closures to an attempt at political retaliation against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
It offers a dramatic account of one meeting of the governor with his senior staff, saying Christie began it “by slamming the door” and berating his aides’ performance since the November election. Christie then “demanded to know from each of his senior staff” about what they knew about the lane closures, “making eye contact with each person to convey the gravity of his direction.”
“The confessionals are open,” Christie reportedly said, as he urgently pressed for relevant information before a looming press conference.
“Members of senior staff commented that it seemed clear from the Governor’s words and demeanor that he had no involvement in or knowledge of the lane realignment,” the report states.
But the report confirms that on Dec. 4, just eight days before that confrontation, former Port Authority official David Wildstein had dinner with Michael Drewniak, Christie’s press secretary. According to Drewniak, Wildstein appeared “anxious” and told him that he “had mentioned the Fort Lee traffic study to the Governor at a public event” during the lane closures.
During that dinner, which took place on the eve of his resignation, Wildstein said that the plan to shut down traffic lanes —and attribute it to a “traffic study” was “his idea” and that “(former Christie aide Bridget) Kelly and (former campaign manager Bill) Stepien had some knowledge.”
The report also states that Kelly and Stepien had had a “personal relationship,” but by August, when the plan for the lane closures had begun, that relationship “had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s behest and Stepien and Kelly had largely stopped speaking. Indeed, that fact may have affected how Kelly and Stepien conducted themselves and whether they communicated about the lane realignment.”
The internal investigation cleared Christie of any wrongdoing, but did not include interviews with most of the key players, including Kelly and Stepien. The state legislature and federal prosecutors continue to investigate the matter.
Critics quickly charged that the Christie report was incomplete. It did not include any transcript of the lawyers’ interview with Christie, including details on precisely what he was asked or what he said.
First published March 27 2014, 2:53 PM
Michael Isikoff joined NBC News in July 2010 as national investigative correspondent. Previously he had been at Newsweek since 1994 as an investigative correspondent. He has written extensively on the U.S. government's war on terrorism, the Abu Ghraib scandal, campaign-finance and congressional ethics abuses, presidential politics and other national issues. At Newsweek.com his blog "DeClassified - Investigative Reporting in Real Time," written with Mark Hosenball, become a must-read for senior U.S. officials. Their previous web column, "Terror Watch," also written for Newsweek.com, won the 2005 Society of Professional Journalists award for best investigative reporting online.
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Isikoff is the author of two New York Times best-selling books: "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War," co-written with David Corn, and "Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Story," which chronicled his reporting of the Monica Lewinsky story.
Since the terror attacks of 9/11, Isikoff has broken repeated stories about the U.S. government's war on terror and won numerous journalism awards. Isikoff's June 2002 Newsweek cover story on U.S. intelligence failures that preceded the 9/11 terror attacks, along with a series of related articles, was honored with the Investigative Reporters and Editors top prize for investigative reporting in magazine journalism. He was honored, along with a team of Newsweek reporters, by the Society of Professional Journalists for coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Isikoff was also part of a reporting team that earned Newsweek the National Magazine Award for General Excellence in 2002, for its coverage of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Isikoff's exclusive reporting on the Monica Lewinsky scandal gained him national attention in 1998 and his coverage of the events that lead to President Bill Clinton's impeachment earned Newsweek the prestigious National Magazine Award in the Reporting category in 1999. Isikoff's Lewinsky reporting also won the National Headliner Award, the Edgar A. Poe Award presented by the White House Correspondents Association and the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for Reporting on the Presidency.
Isikoff came to Newsweek from The Washington Post, where he had been a reporter since September 1981. Isikoff graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a B.A. in 1974 and received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1976.