New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager says the embattled Republican knew about so-called “Bridgegate” the day before he held a news conference declaring he didn’t.
In a letter obtained by msnbc, Kevin H. Marino – lawyer to former Christie adviser Bill Stepien—demands corrections in a report produced by a law firm hired by the governor’s office. The internal report, released on March 27, cleared Christie of any wrongdoing related to the September George Washington Bridge lane closures, orchestrated by some of his staffers and allies, seemingly for political retribution.
Marino’s letter to Randy Mastro – the lawyer who spearheaded the internal review of the scheme – was sent on April 2 but was made public on Wednesday. Marino asks Mastro to correct a section in the report claiming Stepien had misled Christie by saying he had no “prior knowledge” of the plan.
Stepien says that he told Christie on Dec. 12 (a day before the news conference) that then-Port Authority executive David Wildstein approached him about the lane closure plan, which was one of Wildstein’s many “crazy ideas.” Stepien said he told Wildstein that he would have to “run the idea by normal channels in Trenton (i.e. the Governor’s Office).”
But on Dec. 13, Christie at a news conference insisted he made it clear to everyone on his staff that if anyone had any knowledge about the lane closures they needed to tell him about it. Christie said they told him there was nothing to indicate anyone in the administration was involved. On Jan. 8, emails were made public showing Christie’s inner circle was indeed involved. Christie then cut ties with Stepien and fired his deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. Among the emails made public was one of Stepien referring to the mayor of Fort Lee—the New Jersey town severely affected by the lane closures – as an “idiot.” Kelly had written the new infamous email to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to which Wildstein responded: “Got it.”
Marino told msnbc he doesn’t have “any basis” to say that the governor “intentionally misspoke.” But the letter marks the first time a top Christie ally is challenging the governor’s timeline on when he knew what about the scheme.
Marino also sought to clear his client’s name in a statement. Stepien, he said, “is innocent of any wrongdoing with respect to the Bridgegate affair. He is not ‘callous,’ ‘insensitive’ or ‘idiotic,’” the statement says.
Both Kelly and Stepien have pleaded the Fifth Amendment and are refusing to hand over any information to the New Jersey legislative panel investigating the lane closure. There is a separate, federal investigation into the scandal.
Earlier this week, the governor’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, testified in front of the state committee insisting neither he nor his boss had prior knowledge of the scheme. Drewniak also maintained that administration officials believed the lane closures were the result of a traffic study.
On Wednesday, Christie – who once led the GOP pack in the nascent race to be the 2016 presidential nominee – told CBS News’ Bob Schieffer at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s annual fiscal summit that he didn’t think his recent troubles would impact his future political plans. “I’m not the first chief executive who had someone on their staff do something they didn’t know something about they disapproved of and later had to fire them. I don’t think that that hurt anybody’s career and it’s not going to hurt mine.”
Despite student and alumni protests, Christie is scheduled to deliver a commencement speech on Friday at Rowan University’s 2014 graduation ceremony.