6 Conclusions From the Chris Christie Bridgegate Report

The governor’s office published an account of the George Washington Bridge scandal, clearing his name.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros and Brian Resnick
March 27, 2014, 8:21 a.m.

Chris Christie’s name was cleared in the bridge-clos­ing scan­dal that rocked his of­fice, ac­cord­ing to an in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion com­mis­sioned by the New Jer­sey gov­ernor’s of­fice.

Most sig­ni­fic­antly, for Christie, the 300-plus page re­ports con­cludes, “Our ex­am­in­a­tion of emails, text mes­sages, phone re­cords, and oth­er doc­u­ments found no evid­ence that the gov­ernor had know­ledge of the lane re­align­ment dur­ing its im­ple­ment­a­tion.”

However, the re­port does state that Dav­id Wild­stein, the former Port Au­thor­ity of­fi­cial who or­ches­trated the lane clos­ures, said he told Christie about the traffic is­sue at a pub­lic event while the clos­ures were hap­pen­ing. But Christie said that he did not re­call the in­ter­ac­tion.

Randy Mas­tro, the law­yer who led the in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion, said there was “not a shred of evid­ence” that Christie knew of the scan­dal. “Our find­ings today are a vin­dic­a­tion of Gov. Christie,” Mas­tro said.

Since this was an in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion, Mas­tro had to de­fend the ob­jectiv­ity of the find­ings. At a press con­fer­ence Thursday, he said that be­cause he was hired by the gov­ernor’s of­fice and not by the gov­ernor him­self, there was enough sep­ar­a­tion for in­de­pend­ence.

Here are the main con­clu­sions from the re­port:

Hoboken may­or’s claim that Christie with­held Sandy money for polit­ic­al lever­age is un­foun­ded.

In sum, our in­vest­ig­a­tion has con­cluded that May­or Zi­m­mer’s al­leg­a­tions are un­sub­stan­ti­ated and, in ma­ter­i­al re­spects, demon­strably false. Whatever sub­ject­ive per­cep­tions she may have do not match ob­ject­ive real­ity, as re­flec­ted in the hard evid­ence un­covered dur­ing our in­vest­ig­a­tion. Moreover, her al­leg­a­tions are con­tra­dicted by con­tem­por­an­eous doc­u­ments, oth­er wit­nesses’ ac­counts, and her own pri­or state­ments. May­or Zi­m­mer her­self has called the se­quence of events that she has al­leged “un­be­liev­able.”162 Based on our in­vest­ig­a­tion, we would have to agree.

Em­ploy­ees of the Gov­ernor’s of­fice should use work email for com­mu­nic­a­tions, not per­son­al email, as Brid­get Kelly and Dav­id Wild­stein used to dis­cuss the lane clos­ures.

Ab­sent ex­traordin­ary cir­cum­stances, pub­lic em­ploy­ees work­ing in trus­ted po­s­i­tions should use their of­fi­cial state email ac­counts when con­duct­ing state busi­ness. As a mat­ter of trans­par­ency, ac­count­ab­il­ity, and pub­lic ac­cess, that is the prudent and re­spons­ible thing to do.

Elim­in­ate the In­ter­gov­ern­ment­al Af­fairs (IGA) of­fice that Brid­get Kelly ran. 

It ap­peared to have func­tioned very ef­fect­ively dur­ing the first three years of the Gov­ernor’s first term, both in terms of re­spons­ive­ness and non-par­tis­an­ship. But then, dur­ing the Gov­ernor’s re-elec­tion year, un­der Kelly’s stew­ard­ship, there was ab­er­ra­tion­al be­ha­vi­or at Kelly’s dir­ec­tion. While this ab­er­ra­tion­al con­duct was isol­ated, it has led to mis­un­der­stand­ings that have cre­ated ap­pear­ance is­sues for IGA go­ing for­ward.

Ap­point an om­bud­sper­son (pub­lic ad­voc­ate) to the gov­ernor’s of­fice

To as­sist the Gov­ernor’s Of­fice go­ing for­ward, and to re­store pub­lic trust in the many hon­or­able, ded­ic­ated pub­lic ser­vants who work there, we pro­pose that the Gov­ernor ap­point an Om­bud­sper­son — a seni­or states­per­son of un­ques­tioned in­teg­rity and in­de­pend­ence — to serve as a sound­ing board and re­source read­ily avail­able for re­ceiv­ing com­plaints with­in the Gov­ernor’s Of­fice and see­ing that they get ap­pro­pri­ately re­spon­ded to.

Re­form the Port Au­thor­ity via a bi-state com­mis­sion with New York.

This Bi-State Com­mis­sion should be tasked to for­mu­late a re­form agenda to re­struc­ture the Port Au­thor­ity to en­sure its in­de­pend­ence and pro­fes­sion­al­ism go­ing for­ward. As the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge in­cid­ent demon­strates, di­vi­sions between the Port Au­thor­ity’s New Jer­sey and New York coun­ter­parts have his­tor­ic­ally res­ul­ted in com­mu­nic­a­tion fail­ures, rival­ries, and du­plic­a­tion. …

the cur­rent ap­point­ments struc­ture — whereby one Gov­ernor ap­points the Chair (and Deputy Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or) and the oth­er Gov­ernor ap­points the Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or (and Vice Chair) — only ex­acer­bates that di­vi­sion and, at times, leads to dys­func­tion.

If the Hoboken may­or’s claims were cred­ible, she should have re­por­ted them to law en­force­ment.

The Gov­ernor should con­sider tak­ing steps to re­quire all State and loc­al elec­ted of­fi­cials, and per­haps their most seni­or staffers or cab­in­et-level ap­pointees, to timely re­port to law en­force­ment au­thor­it­ies, or the in­spect­ors gen­er­al or chief eth­ics of­ficers re­spons­ible for such over­sight, any con­duct that they be­lieve may con­sti­tute crimes be­ing com­mit­ted on their watch, and im­pos­ing ap­pro­pri­ate rem­ed­ies on those pub­lic of­fi­cials who fail to timely re­port such al­leg­a­tions. This would en­sure timely re­port­ing and in­vest­ig­a­tion of any such al­leg­a­tions. And it would ad­dress the ques­tions that ne­ces­sar­ily arise about the mo­tiv­a­tions and vera­city be­hind al­leg­a­tions such as May­or Zi­m­mer’s that are only first pub­licly made long after the fact. 

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