Report: Don't Blame Chris Christie, Blame His Right-Hand Woman

According to an internal review, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is free and clear of any charges that he was involved in a high school-style prank to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge. Not cleared: His now-fired deputy chief of staff of intergovernmental affairs Bridget Anne Kelly, who is being thrown under the bus in a pretty sexist way.

Until I read this almost 300 page report, I didn't have much sympathy for Kelly and neither did most anyone else. She was a central part of an administration attempt to punish political leaders who haven't supported Governor Christie's political agenda. Though Kelly has gotten a good deal of negative attention, she's mostly shared the blame with Christie, her "co-conspirator" David Wildstein at the Port Authority and Christie's campaign director Bill Stepien. But now that this internal investigation conducted by lawyers hired by Christie is finished, it's clear that Kelly is the one they'd like us to focus our blame on.

As the New York Times describes it, the report "doubles down on a strategy of portraying Ms. Kelly as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability." Let's dive into this strategy.

Right from the start, Kelly is described as emotional and not good enough at her job. Also she was having a romantic relationship with a co-worker that he ended, which is very relevant, of course:

Something happened to change this dynamic dramatically, however, in August 2013. By that time, Kelly had become Deputy Chief of Staff, assuming the post left vacant by her predecessor, Stepien, who had departed in April 2013 to run the Governor's re-election campaign. Because Stepien was her "benefactor," Kelly relied heavily on him during this transition. And at some point after Stepien's departure to run the campaign, Kelly and Stepien became personally involved, although, by early August 2013, their personal relationship had cooled, apparently at Stepien's choice, and they largely stopped speaking.

By the way, their relationship had cooled because he ended it, if you forgot that part:

And her first known communication to Wildstein about the lane realignment in mid-August 2013, for example, occurred around the time that her personal relationship with Stepien had cooled, apparently at Stepien's behest and Stepien and Kelly had largely stopped speaking.

Kelly had a lot of other stuff on her plate too, like "a hospitalized family member" and having to pick up her kids from school and other activities on a regular basis. This might have made things difficult for her:

Like the others involved in the lane realignment, events in Kelly's personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind.

To be clear: at no point are there actually any implications in this report that Stepien or Wildstein's personal lives were motivating them to involve themselves in the bridge closings.

But Kelly is different. She's just a really emotional person:

During the senior staff meeting, most attendees looked only at the Governor or down; they did not observe other attendees' demeanor. Orsen was sitting directly next to Kelly in the back of the room, however, and observed that Kelly seemed emotional during the meeting.

Super nervous:

O'Dowd observed that Kelly seemed nervous during the meeting.

Generally very worried about her job:

A short while after this meeting, Kelly came to O'Dowd's office. Kelly said she was concerned about what the Governor thought of her and asked O'Dowd whether the Governor had lost confidence in her. She asked O'Dowd if she needed to talk to the Governor. O'Dowd responded that it was her decision—a response prompted, in part, by the fact that Kelly was habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the Governor and O'Dowd was anticipating soon leaving the Governor's Office.

Did we mention she is emotional and unreliable?:

Shortly after the press conference, Gramiccioni passed by Kelly's office and noticed that Kelly was seated alone and looked as if she had been crying. Gramiccioni entered Kelly's office and asked her what was wrong. Kelly said she had spent the morning going through her emails for O'Dowd, was unable to find any emails discussing the lane realignment, and did not remember whether she had any emails relevant to the lane realignment issue. Gramiccioni asked Kelly how she could not remember whether she had any such emails, to which Kelly responded that her practice was to delete her emails to prevent her children from reading any communications she had with her ex-husband. Gramiccioni recalled thinking that this was a nodd, non-responsive answer. Gramiccioni then advised Kelly that if she had anything else to share, she needed to talk to O'Dowd again or else she would be in serious trouble. Gramiccioni told O'Dowd about her conversation with Kelly, noting that Kelly had looked upset and had continued to deny having any emails reflecting her knowledge of the lane realignment.

Upset and seeking approval:

O'Dowd noted that, during this exchange, Kelly seemed even more upset than she had been during their meeting earlier that morning. She specifically expressed concern that O'Dowd did not believe her.

Still upset:

Both Crifo and Orsen recalled seeing Kelly looking upset as she left O'Dowd's office at some point during the afternoon of December 13, 2013, after the press conference.

Despite the fact that Stepien had Kelly's job for most of Christie's first term and is absolutely implicated of at least being aware of the lane closings through emails and texts, he gets a pass, both in this report and by Governor Christie. According to the report, Christie fired him because of "'the tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed' in Stepien's emails 'after the fact' that made the Governor 'lose [his]confidence in Bill's judgment,'" not because he willingly participated in this charade. Though lead lawyer Randy Mastro and the rest of the team at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (who were paid $1 million of New Jersey's money for this report) admit that they were not allowed access to Stepien's personal emails when doing their investigation, nor were they able to interview key witnesses like Kelly, Wildstein or Stepien, they still believe that their review is conclusive.

Wildstein, who was appointed to the Port Authority by Christie, gets a pass. Closing the lanes "was Wildstein's 'idea,' like so many other 'crazy' ones he'd had before that never got off the ground," the report says – and yet because he was not directly in the governor's office before he resigned, he is not nearly as responsible. This is despite the fact that Kelly's ability to actually carry out any lane closures was nothing compared to the power that Wildstein had:

Like Wildstein, Bridget Kelly appears to have had a central role in carrying out this lane realignment plan. To be sure, Kelly, unlike Wildstein, did not have any operational responsibilities at the Port Authority. But it was Kelly whom Wildstein called for her buy-in on this operation. In other words, Wildstein appears to have proposed this lane realignment, and then Kelly appears to have blessed it. Without the ability to interview Wildstein or Kelly, however, we are unable to determine conclusively what the ulterior motive was that compelled the operation.

And:

The evidence shows that this lane realignment plan was ordered by Wildstein, with the knowledge, consent, and authorization of Kelly, and that these individuals tried to cover up the operation after the fact. The evidence with respect to Stepien and Baroni is inconclusive: we found no evidence that they were aware of any ulterior motive behind the decision to effectuate the lane realignment, but they engaged in conduct during or after the lane realignment that is concerning. Finally, we found no evidence that anyone else in the Office of the Governor, besides Kelly, had any advance knowledge of the lane realignment or was otherwise involved in orchestrating or approving it.

In contrast to Bridget Anne Kelly, Chris Christie is a hero who spent September 11, 2013 at the World Trade Center site meeting with dignitaries and families of the victims. Wildstein has said that this is when he told Christie that there was something going on with the bridge; a lengthy passage in this report seems to indicate that Christie was too busy worrying about the victims of 9/11 to have dealt with the bridge lane closing – or that if he was told, he was too busy to remember it being mentioned:

In any event, even if credited, any passing reference by Wildstein—made in a social, public setting at the time of a public 9/11 Memorial event—to a traffic issue in Fort Lee would not have been meaningful or memorable to the Governor. Indeed, it seems highly unlikely such a brief mention, even if made by Wildstein to the Governor, would have registered with the Governor at all.

Instead, Chris Christie is a true hero who "was genuinely shocked and disappointed—welling up with emotion" when he found out the truth about the bridge lane closing.

The report also includes extensive dismissal of the testimonies of Mayors Sokolich and Zimmer, alleging that their stories about retaliatory actions from the Christie Administration have changed and that Zimmer's personal journal "is not strong evidence."

"...based on our examination of the record, we find that allegations accusing Governor Christie of creating a 'culture' of political retaliation are unsubstantiated and, indeed, contradicted by substantial other evidence," the review concludes. But Christie did create this culture of political retaliation: he hired, appointed and promoted at least three if not more individuals that actively behaved in illegal and inappropriate ways. For people who want a real report on what actually happened with Bridgegate, New Jersey federal prosecutors are still investigating Christie, as is a state legislative committee. Bridget Anne Kelly surely won't get off in those investigations, nor should she, but hopefully neither will her counterparts – including Chris Christie, the man who allowed all this to happen in the first place.

Images via Getty and AP