Schar Report: Committee cannot conclude what Christie knew about GWB lane closures

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie talks with members of the media as he visits the East Dover marina two years after Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2014 in Toms River, New Jersey (Photo by Kena Betancur/Getty Images).
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Getty Images)

Prepared and submitted to the NJ Legislative Committee yesterday by attorney Reid J. Schar from Jenner and Block, a report regarding the George Washington Bridge lane closures asserts that the committee is not currently in a position to conclude what Governor Chris Christie “himself knew about the lane closures or when and how his knowledge of these events developed.”

“While there is evidence that the Governor was informed of the lane closures while they were in progress, the committee cannot evaluate the reliability of this evidence as it has yet to hear from the witness – [former Port operative David] Wildstein – who has claimed to have contemporaneously told the governor of the closures,” the report notes.

However, “many critical questions… remain unanswered,” according to the Schar report, which points out that several key witnesses declined to cooperate with the investigative committee.

The committee formed in response to the events around September 9, 2013, when the residents of Fort Lee and neighboring communities began their day only to find the borough’s streets “choked with unmanageable traffic.”

The 136-page report notes that it is presently unknown the extent to which former Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni participated in the lane closures, “although it is clear that Baroni …intentionally ignored pleas for assistance from the Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, and did so in concert with Wildstein, Baroni’s subordinate.”

The committee also could not reach a conclusion regarding the involvement of former Port Authority Chairman David Samson.

The committee co-chaired by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) will publicly digest the report on Monday.

While again unable to prove the governor had any direct knowledge or involvement of the machinations of his Deputy Chief of Staff (who initially sent the email “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”), the report suggests that Christie allies engineered the lane closures as retribution to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who did not endorse the Republican governor’s reelection.

From the report:

“Shortly before 9:29 a.m. [in the midst of the unexplained traffic crisis], Mayor Sokolich attempted to reach Baroni by telephone regarding an ‘urgent matter of public safety in Fort Lee.’384 Soon afterwards, Baroni forwarded to Wildstein an email message concerning Mayor Sokolich’s call. Wildstein immediately directed, ‘radio silence.’ Separately, Wildstein forwarded the message from Mayor Sokolich to Kelly, who asked in response, ‘Did he call him back?’386 Wildstein answered, ‘Radio silence. His name comes right after mayor Fulop.’

“Although the current unavailability to the Committee of either [Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget] Kelly or Wildstein leaves the basis of the reference to ‘mayor Fulop’ unknown, public reports suggest that Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop was denied access to key appointees of Governor Christie after Mayor Fulop declined to endorse the Governor’s re-election efforts. Wildstein’s reference to another New Jersey mayor who had chosen not to endorse Governor Christie for re-election further suggests political considerations played a part in the lane closures.”

Attorney Randy Mastro’s report commissioned by Christie cleared the governor of wrongdoing in March.

“The Committee has finally acknowledged what we reported nine months ago — namely, that there is not a shred of evidence Governor Christie knew anything about the GWB lane realignment beforehand or that any current member of his staff was involved in that decision,” Mastro said in a statement first reported by the Associated Press. Schar Report: Committee cannot conclude what Christie knew about GWB lane closures