Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In-House Verdict Is the Narrative Christie Wanted

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

In-House Verdict Is the Narrative Christie Wanted

Article excerpt

The internal review of Governor Christie's administration, now at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers and rising, could produce a valuable new weapon for Christie for the long slog through scandal.

Due out possibly this week, the review apparently will clear Christie of having any involvement with the execution or plotting of the George Washington Bridge lane closings, carried out last September by several confidants in an act of political retaliation, according to a published report.

It's the clean bill of health that Christie will undoubtedly wave in front of hecklers at town hall meetings or tout in front of Republican audiences more inclined to cheer than to challenge him.

But let's be clear: This is no definitive 9/11 Commission-style report with its statesmanlike gravity, its bipartisan balance and thoroughness. This is an in-house verdict from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a prominent New York law firm with close ties to Christie.

What it does do is give the governor a chance to spin his narrative into the public consciousness before doubts about him become hardened into implacable beliefs. It also might help calm nerves among anxious Republican donors, who believe Christie can put the scandal behind him and remain viable for 2016.

Critics say that is the purpose of the report.

"Any attempt to say there's nothing to see here, folks, move along, is nothing more than political calculation to change the topic and to change the discussion," said John Wisniewski, co- chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee investigating the bridge lane closings.

The "comprehensive and exhaustive" report -- as it's being trumpeted in a press release from the governor's office Monday -- was put together without talking to two of the central figures in the scandal, former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, whose email set the lane closings in motion, and former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who ordered the lanes closed. Both refused to be interviewed.

And, Bill Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager, who was kept in the loop over the lane closings, was also not interviewed. Critics quickly shrugged it off as an expensive but dubious exercise -- how can anybody rightfully claim that this report unlocks the mystery surrounding Christie's possible involvement when some of his closest allies may still be holding the key?

"Any report that doesn't address or interview three of the central figures in this issue is an incomplete report," Wisniewski said

Christie's only defense throughout the crisis has been his bold, repeated claim made at a nearly two-hour news conference on Jan. 9 that he had nothing to do with the lane closings and that he wasn't aware that Kelly and Wildstein were involved until he read emails published by The Record a day earlier.

Christie's marathon mea-culpa press conference has not sustained him. …

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