More questions are being raised about the internal review that cleared New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) of any role in the George Washington Bridge lane closures, this time by an attorney representing the governor’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
Saying that the time had come to “set the record straight” about his client, New Jersey attorney Kevin Marino on Wednesday made public a letter he sent last month to the lawyer that led the review, Randy Mastro. In the letter, Marino demanded the correction of two “false and misleading” statements contained in the report, which was released in late March.
“On April 2, 2014, in an effort to inject the truth into the collective ‘bloodstream,’ I sent Randy Mastro the attached letter demanding that he correct the Gibson Dunn Report’s unsupported conclusions regarding Mr. Stepien’s role in Bridgegate,” Marino wrote in a statement emailed to reporters.
In January, following the release of a first round of subpoenaed documents related to the lane closures, Christie forced Stepien — who had been a close advisor and was considered as a rising Republican star — to leave his role as a consultant to the Republican Governors’ Association, and to take his name out of the running for chairman of New Jersey’s Republican Party. Marino has argued those actions were unfair, and that his client is innocent of any wrongdoing in the scandal.
In his letter last month, Marino demanded that Mastro amend his report to “expressly state what his investigation had clearly revealed: that Mr. Stepien was not involved in the origination, planning, execution, or concealment of [former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive] David Wildstein’s lane closure plan, and that last December 12th, Mr. Stepien candidly informed the Governor of his advance knowledge of that plan and of his proper suggestion that Mr. Wildstein vet that plan with the powers-that-be in Trenton [N.J.], not with him.”
“I also urged Mr. Mastro to correct his flatly-erroneous legal assertion that Mr. Stepien’s proper invocation of his constitutional rights … somehow supports a proper inference that he is guilty of wrongdoing,” Marino said in his statement.
Thus far, Stepien has refused to cooperate with state lawmakers investigating the scandal, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights and going to court to avoid having to turn over documents subpoenaed by a special committee. (Federal prosecutors are also investigating the scandal.)
Stepien is not the first person to raise concerns about the so-called Mastro report. The legal team that put it together was unable to interview numerous key figures in the scandal, including Stepien, Wildstein, and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. And while the report concluded that Christie was blameless in the bridge affair, it was unable to answer basic questions about why exactly the lanes were closed and how the plan originated.
After its release, Christie’s critics called the report a “white wash.” And earlier this month, former Christie aide Christina Renna testified before the legislative committee that there were “inaccuracies” in the section of the report that summarized her interview with the legal team.
In his April letter to Mastro, Marino raised numerous objections to the language used and conclusions reached by the report.
“Regrettably, in every instance in which the investigators who prepared the Report were confronted with a gap in the evidence, they filled that void with surmise — surmise which, in Mr. Stepien’s case, seems designed for the sole and improper purpose of justifying what has since been revealed to be the clear mistreatment he received,” Marino wrote.
Marino also raised the possibility of Stepien taking legal action over the report’s content.
“To state, as the Report does at Page 126, that Mr. Stepien lied to Mr. Christie — a man to whom he was unshakably loyal and unfailingly honest throughout their relationship — is reprehensible regardless of your motive for doing so. It is also actionable,” Marino wrote. “We insist that you retract it now.”
Marino is no friend of the lawmakers investigating the lane closures. He has accused the special committee of conducting a political investigation. But in his statement to reporters on Wednesday, Marino said that he was left with no choice but to make his letter to Mastro public. “In particular,” Marino wrote, “we urge the Committee to review the attached letter and those portions of the Gibson Dunn Report to which it refers.”
In a statement to The Bergen Record on Wednesday, Mastro defended his team’s report
“Shortly after receiving Bill Stepien’s lawyer’s request to ‘correct’ our report, we respectfully declined because, based on the evidence, there is no basis for any correction,” Mastro said. “We nevertheless offered Bill Stepien and his lawyer the opportunity to provide us with any evidence they wanted us to consider, but we have received nothing from them. And self-serving statements by lawyers are not evidence. Hence, our report stands as is.”