Gov. Chris Christie was “nervous” about the possibility more of his aides were involved in a politically motivated traffic jam scandal, according to interview notes released Monday by lawyers the governor’s office hired to conduct an internal investigation.
The interview notes compiled by Gibson, Dunn & Cruthers lawyers form the basis of a 344-page, taxpayer-funded report exonerating Christie and blaming two loyalists — a former Port Authority official and a now-fired aide — for lane closures that caused tie-ups approaching the George Washington Bridge. A legislative panel investigating the matter had demanded the notes.
Christie was one of 75 people interviewed for his office’s probe into the lane closings, which caused four days of traffic mayhem in Fort Lee, the town at the base of the heavily traveled span linking New Jersey and New York. The investigation by the governor’s office found the closures targeted the town’s Democratic mayor.
Five people close to Christie have been fired or resigned amid the scandal, which has been a major distraction for Christie as he contemplates a 2016 presidential run.
The documents from the investigation, which concluded former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein and ex-Christie aide Bridget Kelly were behind the closures, provide no surprises. But they do give some insight into the governor’s state of mind as the scandal enveloped his administration and how his office decided to handle it.
The interview notes show Christie pulled together key members of his government and political teams after the scandal broke in January. Christie’s top political strategists, chief counsel and brother were among those called to the governor’s mansion to find out if anyone else was involved and discuss how to handle the matter. Christie ally David Samson, then chairman of the agency that runs the bridge, also participated, according to the notes. Tapes or transcripts of the interviews have not been made public.
Christie, who was interviewed three times in February and March, also denied allegations that members of his administration threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy recovery funds to Hoboken unless the mayor approved a certain re-development project. The city on the Hudson River sustained severe flooding during the October 2012 storm.
Christie said he did not direct his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, to “deliver a message” to Mayor Dawn Zimmer about the Hoboken redevelopment project. The redeveloper, the Rockefeller Group, was being represented by Samson’s law firm, Wolff & Samson.
Two of the people the mayor says issued the funding threats — Marc Ferzan, who runs the state’s Superstorm Sandy recovery office, and Guadagno — both denied Zimmer’s claims in separate interviews. Zimmer declined to be interviewed for the internal investigation.
Ferzan told interviewers Zimmer was “all over the place,” asking for fast and special aid and frequently changing her mind on the programs she wanted. “It was not even clear that what she wanted on any given day was in the state’s, let alone Hoboken’s, best interests,” the notes say, summarizing Ferzan’s words.
Guadagno, who keeps a picture of herself with Zimmer in her office, said Zimmer talked only about Hoboken, “did not know how to compromise, complained about everything.” The interview memo also says Guadagno thought Zimmer may have been “in over her head” regarding economic development. The lawyers also say Guadagno told Zimmer that Sandy aid and real estate development were not connected.
The notes also show Christie deciding to sever ties with two-time campaign manager Bill Stepien over the objection of political strategist Mike DuHaime, and that Stepien felt wronged because there was no evidence linking him to planning the lane closures. The lawyers’ report concluded that Stepien knew of the operation while it was going on, but there was no evidence that he believed it to be more than a traffic study.
DuHaime said Wildstein told him that Stepien and Kelly both knew about the closures beforehand.
Kelly was fired after Christie learned she sent Wildstein the message, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein resigned.
Wildstein, Stepien and Kelly all refused to be interviewed by the attorneys.
The U.S. attorney’s office is also conducting its own investigation.