Governor Chris Christie is continuing to take steps in an effort to bolster his claim that he has had no involvement in the Bridgegate scandal, along with other allegations against his administration. The latest is Christie's decision to retain Randy Mastro, a former New York City deputy mayor, to represent the Governor's office and conduct an internal investigation into the scandals currently engulfing Trenton.
Christie's decision comes as the State Legislature and the U.S. Attorney's office have launched investigations into Bridgegate and after Christie said he had two of his top aides, both former federal prosecutors, conduct an internal review of the matter. The price tag to taxpayers for Christie's latest investigation: $650 an hour for Mastro and each of the five attorneys assisting him.
The current allegations relate to systemic problems involving legal and ethical mechanisms that were either ignored or subverted by the Governor's office. The investigation that Mastro has been tasked with faces significant complications. First the investigations from state lawmakers and federal prosecutors and second, that Christie, himself, is viewed as a potential target of these investigations.
In order for Mastro's final report to have any validity with an increasing skeptical public and from the U.S. Attorney's office, he will need to prove that his investigation was sufficiently thorough, independent and free of any conflict of interest. This may be easier said than done.
Christie has commissioned this investigation on behalf of the Governor's office and he will have the ability to review Mastro's final report before its public release. In keeping with regular practice for these types of internal investigations, the governor will likely have the ability to decide the final contents of the report. With Christie already concluding that he has had no involvement in Bridgegate and has not done anything unethical or illegal, it is highly doubtful that the taxpayer-funded investigation he commissioned will contradict him.
Christie's decision to launch his own internal investigation has started to generate a number of credible complaints. Port Authority attorneys have objected to the involvement of Mastro's law firm, Gibson Dunn. The Port Authority has asserted that a conflict exists since Gibson Dunn has already represented the Authority in prior matters that could potentially overlap with current investigations. The Port Authority attorneys also believe that due to Gibson Dunn's prior work for the transportation agency, they have had access to confidential Authority information that would preclude the firm from work for the Governor's office. Mastro has told the Port Authority that no conflict exists but his claim can be viewed as self-serving, given his retention by Christie. The fact that a Gibson Dunn client has raised an objection to the firm's involvement with the Governor's office is far more credible than Mastro's current defense.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who has accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno of telling her that Christie would not provide Hoboken with Sandy relief funds unless she agreed to a development project backed by the governor has also objected to Mastro's investigation. She said that Mastro's team has asked her for copies of documents that she has provided to the U.S. Attorney. Zimmer's attorneys have denied the request, question "whether it was appropriate" for the Governor's office to investigate itself when the U.S. Attorney is conducting their own investigation.
At the same time a number of individuals who have been subpoenaed by the State Legislature or the U.S. Attorney's office for their investigations, have been asked to provide copies to Mastro. Several of these individuals have declined the request, which makes sense. It is highly doubtful that anyone who is facing a government subpoena and potential criminal liability exposure will now seek to cooperate with the Governor's office for their own internal investigation.
This lack of cooperation and lack of access to relevant information will make any report produced by Mastro and his team incomplete. This lack of complete understanding of the material surrounding the issue will cause the report to lack serious credibility and it will serve no legitimate purpose. This raises the question of why would Christie -- who has championed fiscal discipline -- subject the state to a significant expense for an investigation that will have no credible value for anyone.
At the end of the day, it appears that Governor Christie's entire taxpayer funded investigation will serve one thing and one thing only, to protect Chris Christie. Any report produced by Mastro and his team could limit Christie's liability exposure, and will provide the Governor with vital information including who is cooperating with federal prosecutors. This will prove invaluable for Christie to prepare for any meeting with the U.S. Attorney's office and for any future statements.
At the end of the day, taxpayers are not paying for Christie to figure out what went wrong, they are paying for Christie to figure his way out of a mess that has jeopardized his once golden national political future.