A Port Authority official with knowledge of the George Washington Bridge lane closure last year told Gov. Chris Christie about it at a 9/11 memorial, according to an internal report released Thursday.
The governor, however, said he had no knowledge of any such exchange, and the report’s authors found no evidence that Christie was involved in the closure.
The report by the corporate law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher pinned much of the blame for the ‘Bridgegate’ scandal on the governor’s former chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly.
Kelly was fired by the governor in January.
The firm’s findings were marred by several hurdles faced by investigators.
Kelly, former aide and campaign manager Bill Stepien, and Christie's Port Authority appointee David Wildstein all refused to speak with attorneys. Gibson Dunn has worked for the Christie administration in the past and the governor is close to Debra Wong Yang, a top partner there.
The firm’s relationship with Christie has cast a shade of skepticism over the impartiality of the report for some political observers.
The report also concludes that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should be restructured in order to promote "transparency and accountability." While suggesting that changes be made via the state legislature and a bi-state commission, the authors do not push any concrete suggestions for such changes.
In a joint statement Thursday, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said the Gibson Dunn report would not be the final word on the Bridgegate scandal.
“The people of New Jersey need a full accounting of what happened. This review has deficiencies that raise questions about a lack of objectivity and thoroughness,” their statement read. “We will continue to pursue our investigation wherever the facts lead. We want a full accounting of the lane closings and any related abuses of power and what can be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
The law firm capped its report with the following recommendations for Christie’s office and the Port Authority:
The Office Of The Governor:
• Restrict The Use Of Personal Email Accounts For Official State Business: Employees within the Governor’s Office should no longer be allowed to use personal email accounts to conduct state business absent extraordinary circumstances.
• Eliminate The Office Of Intergovernmental Affairs: In light of the aberrational behavior that occurred here and to eliminate any misconceptions going forward, IGA should be disbanded and its functions reorganized within a new and expanded Governor’s Office of Constituent and Legislative Services.
• Institute An Ombudsperson Within The Governor’s Office: A senior statesperson “of unquestioned integrity and independence,” should be appointed ombudsperson within the Governor’s office who reports directly to the Governor. The role would be to serve as a sounding board for complaints and ensuring that appropriate response to issues.
• Appoint A Chief Ethics Officer: To ensure what happened here will not be repeated moving forward, the Governor should appoint a Chief Ethics Officer. This newly created position will be dedicated to addressing ethics issues and conflicts as they arise while overseeing training to ensure Governor’s office staff are aware of their obligations.
The Port Authority Of New York And New Jersey:
• Appoint Bi-State Commission To Review Restructuring The Port Authority: In conjunction with New York, New Jersey should move to form a bi-state commission to formulate a reorganization of the Port Authority. As a priority, the commission should consider a potential fundamental restructuring of the PA’s organization and the appointment process for PA commissioners and senior executives.
• Propose Legislative Reforms To Promote Transparency: The Governor’s office should work with legislative leaders and their New York counterparts to craft new or modified reform proposals to bring enhanced transparency and accountability to across the region’s public authorities.