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Thursday, June 21, 2018

New Jersey taxpayers can sleep soundly tonight. Their governor is not a crook, and he did not order lane closures on the George Washington Bridge as political payback.

That’s what a taxpayer-funded internal investigation conducted by supporters of Governor Chris Christie (R) would have them believe, at least.

The report, released Thursday, is the result of an investigation by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a law firm with a history of white-collar criminal defense with strong ties to the Christie administration. The report exonerates Christie of any wrongdoing in the “Bridgegate” scandal, but leaves many questions unanswered. Not least, the report indicates that David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who carried out the closures, told the governor about the operation while they were occurring.

According to the report, Wildstein said he informed Governor Christie about the lane closures during a September 11 memorial at the same time they were taking place. The report further indicates, however, that Christie did not recall any such conversation with Wildstein and that he played no role in the lane closures that spurred this scandal.

Democrats have their doubts about the accuracy of the report.

For starters, the Christie aides most integrally involved declined to be interviewed by the investigators. Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, who ordered the closures via email, refused to be questioned. As did David Wildstein and Bill Stepien, Christie’s two-time campaign manager, who was also clearly involved in the plot to close the access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.

The Democratic National Committee also questioned the funding of the internal investigation, which was paid for with tax money.

“Chris Christie spent a million taxpayer dollars in an effort to clear himself of wrongdoing. But what did we actually learn today? Not much,” a DNC spokesman said in a statement Thursday.

“For a million taxpayer dollars, we heard a lot of things that we already knew – that there was a troubling culture in Christie’s office that led to the lane closures,” the statement continued. “That there was a months-long cover-up by close Christie aides and allies. That Christie’s office broke the public trust. That Christie denied involvement, despite claims from David Wildstein to the contrary. That the Christie practice of bullying and attacking those who challenge him and scrutinize his administration continues.”

The DNC’s reservations may be warranted. As The New York Times explains, the law firm responsible for the investigation has worked for the Christie administration previously. Debra Wong Yang, a top partner at the firm, The Times notes, is a friend of Governor Christie. Furthermore, employees of Gibson, Dunn previously donated money to Christie’s campaign for statewide office.

Above all, the DNC argues, while Christie can deny he had any knowledge of the lane closures, he can no longer deny that his administration created the culture that allowed them to be implemented in the first place.

AFP Photo/Eric Thayer