Internal Bridgegate investigation clears Christie

Does anyone seriously believe an investigation commissioned by Governor Chris Christie into Bridgegate will satisfy his critics? The New York Times waits until only the third paragraph of its report into the exonerating conclusion of the probe to mention the connections between the law firm and the Christie administration, but it still remains the first comprehensive look into the scandal — and finds no connection to Christie himself:

With his office suddenly engulfed in scandal over lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey two months ago summoned a pair of top defense lawyers from an elite law firm to the State House and asked them to undertake an extensive review of what had gone wrong.

Now, after 70 interviews and at least $1 million in legal fees to be paid by state taxpayers, that review is set to be released, and according to people with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry, it has uncovered no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings.

The review is the first of multiple inquiries into a scandal that has jeopardized Mr. Christie’s political future. It will be viewed with intense skepticism, not only because it was commissioned by the governor but also because the firm conducting it, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, has close ties to the Christie administration and the firm’s lawyers were unable to interview three principal players in the shutdowns, including Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff.

But lawyers from the team who led the inquiry are prepared to vigorously defend their work, which they described as an unfettered look into the inner workings of an administration known to prize loyalty and privacy.

Which administration might that describe, anyway? The Obama administration’s Department of Justice investigated itself in the Fast and Furious scandal, and the probe into the NSA was run by James Clapper. For that matter, the DoJ investigated itself in the DEA’s connection to the NSA scandal, and the State Department investigated itself in the Benghazi debacle. I’m not aware of the New York Times taking that great an interest in potential conflicts of interest in those investigations,  all of which probed events of far greater significance than a traffic jam.

At least Christie hired outsiders to conduct the internal investigation. That won’t mollify his critics, nor should it, really. The state of New Jersey should conduct an impartial investigation into the petty abuse of power and hold accountable those responsible for it. That would allow them to subpoena people to get testimony, which Christie’s panel could not do, although the lead attorney claimed to have “unprecedented access” to Christie’s internal communications:

The attorney leading the review, Randy Mastro, a deputy mayor under former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said attorneys had unprecedented access to the governor and his office’s internal communications and records. Mastro said Christie handed over his iPhone, telephone records and allowed investigators to search his private and government email accounts.

However, the review did not have access to three of the scheme’s central figures, including Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff who apparently kicked off the lane closures by sending an email that read “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Getting to those figures would probably take a combination of subpoenas and offers of immunity. If not, it’s doubtful that an outside investigation would get much further than this probe did.