After months of document releases, advancing investigations, bad headlines, and questions, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) looks ready to declare his redemption in the George Washington Bridge lane closing scandal.
Thursday morning, the legal team hired by Christie in January plans to release the results of an internal review of the scandal, and the findings are expected to clear the governor of any role in the lane closures, which caused a massive traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J. in September. The full report will be made available on a public website, and Randy Mastro, the prominent defense attorney who lead the internal investigation, is expected to discuss the findings and take questions at a press conference held in the Manhattan offices of his firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Later on Thursday, Christie plans to sit down with Diane Sawyer of ABC News for his first television interview since the scandal erupted in January. Christie and his wife, Mary Pat Christie, will be interviewed in their home, and will discuss internal review. The interview is slated to air Thursday night.
But Christie isn’t off the hook yet. The release of the internal review comes as state lawmakers and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey continue to investigate the lane closures. For months, many have suggested that the lanes were closed for political reasons, and documents released in January showed that close aides to Christie were involved in discussions of the closures both before and after they took place. Federal prosecutors have also looked into allegations made by the Democratic mayor of Hoboken, N.J., Dawn Zimmer, who in January publicly accused the Christie administration of threatening to withhold Hurricane Sandy relief aid if she did not support a development project in her city.
Word that the Christie legal team’s internal review was set to be released first surfaced in press Sunday. The New York Times reported that “after 70 interviews and at least $1 million in legal fees to be paid by state taxpayers,” the report had “uncovered no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings.” The Times also reported that the attorneys conducting the the review had been unable to interview key figures in the scandal, including former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly, former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien, and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein.
In his monthly radio interview Wednesday on WKXW, Christie confirmed that Mastro and his team had been unable to speak with Kelly, Stepien, and Wildstein. Christie said that former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni, along with Zimmer and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, also refused to be interviewed. Asked how the report could clear him without input from those people, Christie replied that “you don’t just come to conclusions from interviews.”
“There’s lots and lots of documents, that involve all those people, which have been part of the public record, and will be becoming part of the public record as we go forward,” Christie said.
Further advance word of the internal review’s findings appeared in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. A person “familiar with the findings” told the newspaper that the report blames the planning of the closures on Kelly and Wildstein, and is expected to “absolve additional members of Gov. Chris Christie’s senior staff from being involved in the matter.” The report is also expected to address Zimmer’s accusations, according to the Journal, and questions are expected to remain about the extent of Baroni and Stepien’s involvement in the scandal.
During his interview Wednesday, the conversation also touched on Christie’s presidential ambitions, which have been threatened by the scandal.
“Sure,” Christie said, when asked if the presidency is something he still thinks about. “You know, I certainly am not at this point going to make any decision on it.”
He went on:
“There’s certainly nothing that’s happened in the last number of months since we talked about this the last time that would make me think any differently about my ability to be able to pursue that job or to perform in it.”