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Christie cleared in his own probe, but others loom

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 27, 2014 at 6:43 pm •  Published: March 27, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — Lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration said Thursday the governor was not involved in the plot to create traffic jams last fall, a conclusion that left the lead lawyer defending the integrity of his report, which came ahead of the results of separate and ongoing federal and legislative investigations.

The taxpayer-funded report released by former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro relied on interviews with Christie and other officials in his administration — who were not under oath — and 250,000 documents, many of them emails and text messages. But the key figures in the political payback plot did not cooperate, leading Democrats to question the credibility of the report and its thoroughness.

The investigation concluded Christie had no knowledge beforehand of lane closings Sept. 9-12 near the George Washington Bridge between New Jersey and New York that caused four days of massive gridlock in the community of Fort Lee.

The closings became a major scandal for the governor in January when he had to backtrack and acknowledge the involvement of a top aide and an associate in orchestrating the closings. He has repeatedly denied knowing about the plot or being involved in the closings.

"Governor Christie's account of these events rings true. It's corroborated by many witnesses, and he has conducted himself at every turn as someone who has nothing to hide," the report found.

"We uncovered nothing contradicting the governor's account," it concluded.

Democrats blasted the findings, with the party's national committee calling the report "nothing more than an expensive sham." New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, co-chair of the legislative committee investigating the same issues, said it "raises more questions than answers."

Her co-chair, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, also a Democrat, was critical of the report for not including information from those who refused to cooperate. "It's very hard to tell who's telling the truth when you don't hear from all sides," he said.

Christie also went on the offensive after not holding a press conference since early January. The Republican told ABC News on Thursday the episode has been the most trying of his political career, but he never considered resigning over it and it will not affect any possible plans to run for president in 2016.

"I don't intend to make a decision on 2016 until a year from now, but it won't have anything to do with what's happened," he said. "What's happened in the past 10 weeks I think ultimately will make me a better leader, whether it's as governor of New Jersey or in any other job I might take in the public or private sector."

The report did not find even minor missteps by Christie and his inner circle. It cast Christie as a leader who was deeply troubled about the possibility that staff members were not being truthful to him — asking "with tears in his eyes" whether any of his top aides were involved in the lane closures.

During a news conference, Mastro emphasized that the review found no evidence that the scheme was reflective of the wider operations of the governor's office.

"We found that this was the action of the few," he said. "This is not reflective of the whole."

Defending the report, Mastro said his team was able to review a trove of documents, including emails and text messages among Christie, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, top governor's office staff and former staffers.

"We believe we have gotten to the truth or we wouldn't be reporting it," he said.

He also said his team was sharing information with federal prosecutors.

The report, issued at Mastro's New York law office, concluded that former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein and ex-Christie aide Bridget Kelly were behind the closures and that they were targeting Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.

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