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‘Bridge-gate’ report commissioned by Christie clears him of wrongdoing

Lawyer hired by governor releases findings on traffic-blocking scandal, as Democrats blast study as incomplete

Randy Mastro, the lawyer hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to review a traffic-blocking scandal that seemingly threatened the politician's perceived presidential hopes released his findings Thursday, clearing Christie of wrongdoing in the "Bridge-gate" affair and blaming key staffers for orchestrating the incident. 

MORE: Read the report here 

The report, which was pre-emptively attacked by Democrats as incomplete, cleared the governor of involvement in a plot to block traffic in Fort Lee, at the western end of the George Washington Bridge, which connects New York City and New Jersey, apparently to punish its mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.

"Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes," the report by the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher said.  

New Jersey lawmakers and the U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey are undertaking parallel investigations into the traffic tie-up. The scandal has overshadowed the Republican governor and jeopardized his expected run for president in 2016.

The report said blame for the traffic nightmare lies chiefly with Bridget Kelly, the former aide who sent the message "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," and David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge. 

Christie said Wednesday night that he has made no decisions about a bid for the presidency.

"There is certainly nothing that has happened in the last number of months ... that would make me think any differently about my ability to pursue that job or to perform in it," he said on his monthly radio call-in program, TownSquare Media's "Ask the Governor."

Mastro told The New York Times this week that Christie, 51, turned over his cellphone and allowed his email accounts to be searched.

The Mastro-led team of lawyers also had access to thousands of documents on government servers and interviewed scores of current and former Christie staffers.

The 344-page report said the two-month internal investigation involved 250,000 documents and 70 interviews. But Democrats say the report is incomplete because it does not include interviews with people central to the plot, including Kelly and Wildstein.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, chairman of a legislative panel investigating the lane closings, also raised questions about the objectivity of a report on the governor commissioned by the governor and compiled by an ally.

Like Christie, Mastro is a former federal prosecutor. He is a former chief of staff to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another former prosecutor, who has staunchly defended Christie on talk shows since the scandal broke in January. Several people in Christie's circle once worked for Giuliani.

Sandy aid allegations

Five people close to Christie have lost their jobs in the wake of the scandal, including Kelly, whom he fired, and top political adviser Bill Stepien, who managed both of Christie's gubernatorial campaigns and was said to be in line to run any presidential bid.

Emails already released during the investigation show that Stepien was aware of the lane closings while they were happening.

Christie maintains he knew nothing about the plot's planning or execution and found out about it later.

Mastro's tab is said to top $1 million, which will be paid by New Jersey taxpayers.

Federal authorities also are investigating the lane closings and related allegations that two members of Christie's cabinet threatened to withhold Superstorm Sandy recovery aid to a flooded city unless its mayor approved a favored redevelopment project.

The report also examined allegations made by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who told The Associated Press earlier this year that Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, and a top community development official told her recovery funds would flow if the commercial development went forward.

"I was directly told the by the lieutenant governor — she made it very clear — that the Rockefeller project needed to move forward or they wouldn't be able to help me," Zimmer told The Associated Press.

The report concluded that "Zimmer's allegations are, in material respects, demonstrably false." 

"They are contradicted by contemporaneous documents, other witnesses’ accounts and her own prior statements. In sum, the subjective perceptions she may have do not match objective reality, as reflected in the hard evidence uncovered during our investigation," the report said.  

But Thursday afternoon Zimmer shot back at the report, saying it had "no credibility or legitimacy whatsoever."

"Randy Mastro could have written his report the day he was hired and saved the taxpayers the million dollars in fees he billed in generating this one-sided whitewash of serious misconduct by the Christie administration," Zimmer said in a statement provided to Al Jazeera. 

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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