Even Christie’s Top Aide Thinks Self-Exoneration Got Something Wrong

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Another member of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration raised issues Monday with the work done by lawyers who cleared the governor of any role in the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Specifically, chief of staff Kevin O’Dowd distanced himself from a characterization of the former administration official at the heart of the scandal.

O’Dowd testified on Monday in front of the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the lane closures, where he was asked about a portion of an “interview memorandum” produced by the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The document, which was made public earlier this year, summarized the interviews lawyers conducted with O’Dowd in January and March as they went about conducting an internal investigation into the lane closures. State Sen. Nia Gill (D) asked O’Dowd about the following paragraph, which described some of O’Dowd’s interactions on Dec. 13 with Bridget Kelly, who was then still serving as Christie’s deputy chief of staff:

A short while after this meeting, Kelly came to O’Dowd’s office. Kelly said she was concerned about what the Governor thought of her and asked O’Dowd whether the Governor had lost confidence in her. She asked O’Dowd if she needed to talk to the Governor. O’Dowd responded that it was her decision—a response prompted, in part, by the fact that Kelly was habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the Governor and O’Dowd was anticipating soon leaving the Governor’s Office.

Kelly was fired in January after the release of her now infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email — which tied her to the plan to close George Washington Bridge access lanes in Fort Lee, N.J. in September.

On Monday, after O’Dowd’s attorney raised concerns about his client having to adopt Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s summary of his own words, Gill gave O’Dowd a chance to clarify any issues he had with the paragraph.

“I’m going to ask you if this paragraph is accurate, in terms of what you told Dunn and what they reported,” Gill said.

In response, O’Dowd said that the portion of the text referring to Kelly as “habitually concerned about how she was perceived” by Christie was not something he ever would have said.

“I would say this, senator, if I could: the line that jumps out at me that I would submit to the committee is not a line that I would adopt, is the line that indicates — one, two, three, four — I guess the fifth line down, beginning with ‘Kelly,'” O’Dowd said. “‘Kelly was habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the governor,’ that’s not a characterization that I would offer.”

O’Dowd isn’t the first person who was interviewed by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyers to raise questions about the work done by the legal team, which cleared Christie of any role in the scandal. Last month, a former Christie aide, Christina Renna, said that she had problems with the way her language had been characterized in the summary of her own discussions with the legal team.

Following the release of the original internal investigation report in March — which has been referred to as the “Mastro report” after lead lawyer Randy Mastro — Christie’s critics called the report a “white-wash” for the governor, and Kelly’s lawyer issued a statement calling the document “venomous” and “sexist.” In May, the lawyer representing former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien demanded the correction of two “false and misleading” statements contained in the report.

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