Matt Katz, New Jersey Public Radio
At some point this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office is expected to release an internal review of the scandals enveloping his administration, particularly Bridgegate. The report is expected to contain new revelations, but The New York Times said it will conclude that Christie is not culpable for the lane closures. Here's a primer on things to consider when the report is released.
1) Independence. Christie's lead investigators is Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor for Rudy Giuliani who has been Christie’s most prominent Bridgegate defender. And one of Mastro's associates is Debra Wong Yang, a close friend of Christie’s who has vacationed with the governor and his family. In 2011, Wong Yang introduced Christie at an event in Manhattan, calling him "as genuine as can be, a salt of the earth person," and "truly the real deal." When Christie took the stage, he described Wong Yang as a "good and dear friend," and recalled how he and his family joined Wong Yang and her three daughters on a vacation at a game ranch in Texas.
To laughs, he described how they chased a wild pig together.
Wong Yang also got a contract from Christie when he was U.S. Attorney. The Bergen Record reported Monday that one of her daughters interned with Christie. And a few weeks before the Bridgegate scandal became national news, Wong Yang donated $500 to Christie’s inaugural committee.
In other words: Can someone like that really independently investigate Christie? The Republican governor's backers say this legal team can investigate Christie as fairly as Democrats in the Legislature can. The lead legislative investigators, after all, include a former Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor and a former chairman of the state Democratic party.
2) Completeness. Any Bridgegate investigation that doesn’t include interviews with all three key Bridgegate witnesses is, by nature, incomplete. Christie’s lawyers didn’t land any interviews with former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who wrote the famous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email, nor former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien, nor the Port Authority's David Wildstein, who carried out the lane closures.
The Democrats in the Legislature have also been unable to get these three to talk to them.
3) Purpose. Was Mastro leading a defense team to assist the governor’s office in handing over documents subpoenaed by legislators and federal investigators? Or was he acting as a de facto prosecutor by, for example, seeking to interview the mayors of Hoboken and Fort Lee, who had levied abuse-of-power allegations against Christie?
The details of the final report -- inward looking or prosecutorial against Christie accusers -- will provide the final answer of what the point of all of this was.
4) Media. Someone from Team Christie and/or Team Mastro leaked information about the internal review to The New York Times before the document had been completed or even shown to the governor. The resulting front page article was received very well in the governor’s office – they emailed out excerpts to statehouse reporters on Monday – because it said that the “exhaustive” review had concluded that Christie was innocent. The article also stressed the thoroughness of the review, saying that 70 people had been interviewed and even the governor himself handed over his iPhone.
The timing of the leak indicated that Christie’s press shop was relying on the nation’s most important paper to set a narrative for the internal review in advance of its release. And that narrative is this: The review was extensive and fair, and Christie is not responsible for the lane closures.
5) $1 Million. That’s how much the New York Times says it’s costing taxpayers for Christie to do his internal review. And that’s not all: Taxpayers are also spending money on the Legislature’s lawyers. Couple that with the Port Authority, congressional and U.S. Attorney investigations, and the final tab for that five-day traffic jam in Fort Lee is going to be untold millions.