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Christie, Aides To Be Cleared in Internal Bridge-gate Probe

Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 07:46 AM

A law firm hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says the governor was not involved in a plot to create gridlock near a major bridge as part of a political retribution scheme.

The taxpayer-funded report released Thursday concludes the September lane closures near the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge were intended to target a local mayor. But there was no evidence found that it was because the mayor wouldn't endorse Christie.

The report finds that former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein and ex-Christie aide Bridget Kelly were behind the closures.

The lawyers also found no evidence that Christie tied Superstorm Sandy aid for Hoboken to support for a private redevelopment project.

Federal prosecutors are investigating the lane closings. State lawmakers are also conducting their own probe

Christie had hired a legal team to conduct an independent internal investigation into the  closures that had hurt his chances of becoming the next Republican presidential nominee.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday night that the inquiry has absolved the governor and his staffers – apart from those who have already been named -- from involvement in the five-day traffic nightmare last September or any ensuing cover-up.

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The report largely pins the blame on two Christie’s aides who have already been tied to the chaos on the New Jersey-New York bridge – Bridget Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official, according to the newspaper’s source.

Christie, who has not held his once-regular news conferences since early January, was due to appear on Thursday night in a taped interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC World News discussing the review, according to NJ.com.

Christie’s approval ratings have plummeted since emails from Kelly and Wildstein were revealed earlier this year that indicated they had deliberately been involved in the closures.

The governor had been seen as the GOP frontrunner in a potential match-up with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the presidency. But recent polls have shown him falling well behind Clinton and running behind Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as the potential GOP nominee.

According to the person familiar with the findings, the report will reveal the real reason behind the closures and will claim that Kelly and Wildstein had “ulterior motives” for their actions.

But the investigation came under fire earlier this week from Democratic leaders in New Jersey who claim that Christie is just attempting to turn around his political fortunes with a whitewash review while also clogging up the other investigations.

"The page won't be turned until our committee gets its full answers and the U.S. attorney finishes whatever investigation he's doing," New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat leading the legislature's investigation, told the Journal.

In January, Christie announced that he had hired the Manhattan-based legal firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP to conduct the review, and to represent the administration in the federal and legislative inquiries.

The Journal reported that the firm interviewed 70 people and reviewed 250,000 documents, including emails and text messages from the governor and staffers. But investigators for the firm were not able to talk to Wildstein, who resigned from the Port Authority, or Kelly, who is fighting subpoena from the legislative committee.

According to the Journal’s source, the report does not reveal whether there was any involvement in the closures by Christie’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, or by Bill Baroni, Christie's former top Port Authority staff appointee. The pair also refused requests for interviews by the legal firm.

On his monthly radio program Wednesday, Christie said that "all the important questions will be answered” by the review.

In a poll in January, it was revealed that most New Jersey voters believed that Christie must have known about the lane closures before they happened and should resign if that was proven to be the case.

Information from Reuters was used to supplement this report.

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to be cleared today of any wrongdoing in the bridge-gate scandal, paving the way for a possible White House run in 2016. Christie had hired a legal team to conduct an independent internal investigation into the George Washington...

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