Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Christie Aide: I Didn't Ask, I Didn't Take Notes, I Don't Recall
Monday, June 09, 2014
In day-long testimony before NJ’s legislative Bridgegate panel, Gov. Chris Christie's Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd said over and over that he didn’t ask key officials any details of the lane closure scandal.
And when, at last, he did ask questions, he took no notes.
The Bridgegate scandal was coming to a boil on Dec. 12 and Dowd was preparing to fire former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive director Bill Baroni. But O’Dowd never asked Baroni who ordered the study or who in the governor’s office knew about it.
“Did you inquire who authorized the study?” Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the special legislative committee, asked O’Dowd.
“I did not,” O’Dowd answered. “Other than what Mr. Baroni said to me, I don’t believe I asked him any questions.”
O'Dowd, the highest-level Christie aide to testify to date, is eager to receive Senate confirmation as NJ Attorney General. But although he displayed a lot less verbal eye-rolling than previous Bridgegate witnesses, his testimony was received with skepticism — especially when he asserted a circumspect role for himself.
O’Dowd said the governor had only assigned him to ask Bridget Kelly about her knowledge of the lane closures.
And he said he trusted Kelly, “thought very highly of her,” and found her to be “hard-working, energetic and loyal.”
O'Dowd met with Christie and his Chief Counsel Charles McKenna in the beginning of October, just after Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye alleged that state and federal laws had been broken by the lane closures in an email that was later made public in the Wall Street Journal.
“Did anyone in that room with 31 years combined of US attorney experience raise the issue of whether state or federal laws were violated?” asked Senator Nia Gill.
No, they had not.
Because the Port Authority — Baroni and Wildstein — had assured McKenna there was a legitimate traffic study.
What about the fact that on the same day Baroni was fired, loyal Christie aide Deb Gramiccione warned O’Dowd that Baroni said that emails existed showing that former Christie aides Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien knew about the closures?
O’Dowd claimed it happened the following day. But “I don’t have it memorialized in any capacity,” O’Dowd said.
What about when Gramiccione told O’Dowd that Kelly said she sometimes deleted emails — did he relay that to the governor?
“I don’t believe I passed that along to the governor, but I’m not certain either way," O'Dowd responded.
After detailing his years of experience as a deputy attorney general and assistant U.S. Attorney, Senator Gill asked, “Would you agree that you are a skilled prosecutor?”
O’Dowd did not explain why, as an experienced prosecutor, he’d asked virtually no questions about who ordered the lane closures and why.