Chris Christie may be feeling a little bit lighter today, though it's unlikely he would ever admit it. The New Jersey Governor, Republican Governors Association Chairman, and all-but-certain presidential candidate is officially one step closer to being free of the political baggage that is the so-called "Bridgegate" scandal –– but he's not completely in the clear just yet.
An investigation conducted by a Democrat-led state legislative committee has found "no conclusive evidence" suggesting Christie was –– or was not –– directly involved in the confounding September 2013 traffic jam caused by lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
As The Daily Beast reported in July, the committee had been losing steam for some time after initially uncovering a trail of evidence leading into the governor's office. The investigation soldiered on for almost a year without the discovery of any other smoking guns, all at the expense of the taxpayer.
Team Christie has greeted the committee's news with somewhat predictable gloating.
The Record's Shawn Boburg reported that Christie's attorney, Randy Mastro, welcomed the committee's findings late Thursday evening. "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,” he said. “Thus, the committee's work has simply corroborated our comprehensive investigation. And with this inquiry behind it, the governor and his office can now focus on doing what they do best –– serving the public interest."
The nine-month-old report Mastro is referring to is the "internal investigation" he conducted for the Christie administration which found, to the surprise of approximately no one considering Mastro is Christie's attorney, that Christie did nothing wrong.
While the legislative committee's findings align with Mastro's in that they lay blame at the feet of Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, they do not fully exonerate Christie.
To the contrary, the report assigns responsibility for the actions of his staff and appointees to Christie, claiming they acted "with perceived impunity and in an environment, both in the [governor's office] and the Port Authority, in which they felt empowered to act as they did, with little regard for public safety risks or the steadily mounting public frustrations."
The legislative committee's report also does not seem to attempt to assassinate the character of either Kelly or Wildstein, unlike Mastro's, which inexplicably and misogynistically went into great detail about the affair Kelly had been engaged in with Christie's former campaign manager, and basically accused Wildstein of being a mad man.
Christie could hardly ask for a better talking point than I-Was-Cleared-Of-Wrongdoing-By-Democrats –– but it was never the legislative committee that the star-RGA fundraiser had to worry about.
Christie remains under investigation by the United States Attorney, Paul Fishman –– and he is reviewing more than just Bridgegate. Besides probing the lane closures, Fishman is looking at whether or not Christie's administration threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery funds from the mayor of Hoboken if she did not cave on their requests involving a real estate deal.
(Separately, In New York, the district attorney and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating reports that the Christie administration lobbied to use $1.8 billion, intended for a tunnel project, to illegally pay for other endeavors.)
Fishman's investigation has been virtually devoid of leaks, and it has faded from view as interest in Bridgegate has mostly evaporated from everywhere except MSNBC. Given that, it is easy to think that Christie is no longer in danger of indictment, or of being negatively impacted by the indictments of those close to him, or previously close to him. But it is instructive to consider the case of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was indicted in August following a yearlong investigation that, having failed to register with the mainstream media, seemed to come out of nowhere.
The fact remains that no one will know whether or not Christie is fully free of Bridgegate until Fishman concludes his investigation.
For now, just like Perry, Christie can argue that the Democrats were out to get him –– the only difference is, they seem to have let Christie go.