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
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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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