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Panel’s report finds no proof Christie knew of bridge scheme

Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – State lawmakers in New Jersey investigating last year’s scheme to snarl traffic leading to the George Washington Bridge say they’ve yet to turn up evidence that Gov. Chris Christie knew anything about it.

After 11 months of work, the investigative committee issued an interim report Monday that acknowledged it couldn’t get to the bottom of why two Christie aides created four days of monumental traffic jams, nor could the committee say whether they were acting on orders from anyone else. Lawmakers said they were blocked from interviewing key witnesses because of a federal criminal investigation.

The committee’s leaders said there are still unanswered questions about what Christie knew about the bridge scandal, and whether his administration, worried about political damage, tried to block the truth from coming out.

A lawyer for Christie, Randy Mastro, said the report simply confirms his firm’s internal review, which absolved the governor of responsibility. And Republicans on the state panel blasted the investigation as a Democratic-led effort to smear Christie, a likely candidate for president in 2016.

For a time, the scandal seemed like it might derail the presidential ambitions of Christie. But polls show his reputation has largely rebounded, and he has worked diligently to build relationships with top GOP donors and officials in other states.

The scandal’s groundwork was laid in September 2013 when David Wildstein, a high school classmate of Christie’s who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, ordered the closure of some access lanes to the bridge, the world’s busiest. The maneuver created four days of hellish traffic in Fort Lee, at the base of the bridge, and the town’s Democratic mayor immediately started questioning whether it was political retaliation for his decision not to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election.

For nearly four months, Christie and his top appointees insisted that they were conducting a traffic study that forced them to close lanes.

But that story fell apart in January, when an email exchange surfaced between Wildstein and Bridget Anne Kelly, a deputy chief of staff in Christie’s office. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote Wildstein before the closures.

Wildstein resigned and Kelly was fired, but no evidence has surfaced that anyone else was involved in the scheme.

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