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What Won't You Find In Bridgegate Documents? Christie's Emails and Texts

Monday, May 05, 2014

This is the only email that has so far been publicly released from Gov. Chris Christie about Bridgegate. He is changing the resignation statement of David Wildstein, who ordered the lanes closed.

Just one email.

The internal review of the office of Gov. Chris Christie in the wake of the Bridgegate and Sandy funding scandals yielded 4,612 pages —that included summaries of interviews with 75 people, plus dozens of emails and text messages from top Christie staffers. But the only shred of primary-source evidence from Christie himself is an email written on Dec. 6, 2013, the eve of the resignation of David Wildstein, who engineered the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

"Try this," Christie wrote to spokesman Michael Drewniak. The governor said he wanted to add a line to the Wildstein resignation statement that thanks him "for his service to the people of New Jersey and the region."

But why does the internal review contain no further emails or texts from the governor himself? And what does that mean about where the Bridgegate investigation may be going?

To Randy Mastro, the taxpayer-funded lawyer whom Christie hired to conduct the investigation, the lack of other emails and texts "is evidence that [Christie] had no involvement in the decision, no prior knowledge of the lane realignment, and that's what the evidence showed, and that's what we reported in the report."

But the Mastro Report isn't the only document notable for its lack of Christie fingerprints. Mastro is also responsible for providing the governor's documents to the state legislature as per its subpoena, but sources close to that investigation say those documents contain nothing from Christie himself. Mastro disputes this — there are "very few" texts and emails from Christie, but dozens of correspondence to him (like summaries of news stories), he says. Yet the fact remains that almost all of the chatter about the controversies before they broke wide open — and there was a lot — occurred among staffers at the level just below the governor.

John Hanson, a former FBI agent who now runs Artifice Forensic Financial Services, a fraud investigation firm in Washington, DC, says he often takes on cases and asks: "How could this person have not known what was going on?"

Given the extent and frequency of aides' conversations about the bridge lane closures, Democrats are now asking that question about the Republican governor. No Christie texts or emails have been provided about when Christie first read in October that a top New York official alleged the lane closures were illegal, nor when the matter came up in a gubernatorial debate a few weeks later, nor when his top appointee at the Port Authority testified in November that the lanes were closed for a now-disputed traffic study.

Given the fact that Christie is an avid emailer and texter — taking and receiving texts with cabinet members at every monthly "Ask The Governor" show on 101.5 FM, for example — it is even more surprising not to find documents from him.

Hanson said the lack of the governor's presence in the documents may have been intentional, to protect him from something illicit — a.k.a. "willful blindness." Or it could have been unintentional, just part of the normal distribution of responsibilities in an organization.

There may have been weaknesses with the keyword searches used to scrub Christie's phone and email accounts for information — or code words could have been used instead of, say, "lane closures."

Then again, Christie may be as innocent of any involvement as he claims to be.

Democratic Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who is running the state legislature's investigation, doesn't buy that, of course. She said the Christie re-election campaign has yet to fully comply with its nearly four-month-old subpoena for documents, which are coming in on a rolling basis, and she is unsatisfied with the level of cooperation from Christie's governmental office.

Regardless, Hanson said, it will be tough to pin this all on Christie.

Determining "knowledge and intent," Hanson said, "that's the most difficult thing about working a fraud."

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