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.