New Jersey (NJ) taxpayers will be happy to hear that they spent over $1 million to clear their governor, Chris Christie of any Bridgegate wrongdoing – well, sort of. It did not involve the real-life investigations — the Justice Department or the NJ lawmaker, both of which are just starting.
About 3 months ago, Christie hired lawyers to defend himself, I mean to get to the bottom of Bridegate. At $650 per hour, the firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher did appear to provide that public service. The firm did do a study. After 2 months, 70 interviews, and more than $1 million in legal fees, the internal review is complete. Christie’s attorneys determined that they found Christie guilty of no Bridgegate-related wrongdoing.
The attorney leading the review, Randy Mastro, was a deputy mayor under former Republican New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani. Mastro said his attorneys had unprecedented access to the governor who handed over his iPhone, telephone records and allowed investigators to search his private and government email accounts.
None of the 70 interviews were with 4 principles who figure prominently in the official investigation – Bridget “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” Anne Kelly, Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager, Mayor Mark Sokolich, or David “Got it!” [his response to Bridget’s “traffic problems” email] Wildstein. Bridget Kelly was the governor’s deputy chief of staff before he fired her. Wildstein was supposedly Christie’s friend and his appointee to the Port Authority (PA) before Wildstein resigned.
Christie has proclaimed his innocence and ignorance of the whole scheme to close down 2 of 3 lanes of traffic over the world’s busiest bridge, the George Washington Bridge, during 4 days of rush hour traffic in September, 2013. It is not known yet what the political motivation was. Considering Christie’s intimidation of other mayors, the leading theories involve payback to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, for not endorsing Christie’s candidacy for governor. Another suggests control issues with the $1 billion real estate development at the bridge, Mayor Sokolich’s project.
Due to the scrutiny of the deliberate lane closures of the George Washington Bridge, a host of questionable decisions by Christie and his associates have been revealed.
One thing is sure: Christie has cost NJ taxpayers and federal taxpayers a lot of money. Kunstler’s Politico.com article a few months ago indicated that the biggest expense for NJ commuters and federal taxpayers was Christie’s decision to cancel NJ’s participation in building a new commuter train tunnel under the Hudson River to relieve the unsustainable pressure on the existing 100-year-old train tunnels. Christie then diverted $4 billion from the tunnel project to NJ’s transportation trust fund, which kept the state’s gas tax the second-lowest in the country. Unfortunately, the NJ transit system is the country’s worst.
Much smaller in size is his misuse (under investigation) of Hurricane Sandy relief funds. Perhaps unlike the tunnel funds, such misuse is felt directly by only Sandy victims. Using Sandy funds, Christie paid MWW $2.2 million extra to promote him in a marketing campaign that extols the Jersey Shore and encouraged tourism. Meanwhile $47.6 million was used for inland county projects, covering politically-favored areas not affected by Hurricane Sandy, funds that will not be used for shoreline victims. That fact was claimed by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmerman. According to Zimmerman, Christie’s officials made it clear, at least in veiled language, that she had to support Christie’s pet development project in Hoboken to get relief funds.
Christie’s appointments to the PA reveals it as a patronage machine, including the movement of money and the peddling of influence. The PA had operating revenues of $4 billion in 2012 and controls assets worth $37 billion, including the World Trade Center, New York area airports, container port operations and more. Its control means power and money. Being governor of NJ with control of the PA was the perfect power base for the US Presidency.
And use it, Christie did. Mangled pieces of steel and other momentos from the ruins of the World Trade Center were presented by the PA of NY and NJ to 20 selected NJ mayors who dutifully endorsed Christie before his 2013 re-election as governor. Mark Sokolich wasn’t among them. The authority rewarded friends and punished adversaries. It was a bank used to avoid raising taxes but successfully campaigned to raise tolls in 2011.
One of Christie’s biggest appointments was David Samson, the chairman of the Port Authority of NY and NJ. With obvious conflict of interest as chairman, Samson renegotiated a deal for his law firm client reducing the client’s yearly leasing fees for PA-owned parking from nearly $1 million to $1, a boon for his client but costing taxpayers. Meanwhile, Wildstein’s position was added just for him and seemed to involve political leverage.
Chris Christie apparently believes there is still plenty of time to ride out the scandal and be the Republican candidate for president in 2016.
Many of the very rich have not given up on him yet. The question is, “Have the voters”?