"No conclusive evidence": Christie allies hail Bridgegate report -- but his '16 hopes are dead anyway

Report on lane closures neither damns nor vindicates the governor -- but Bridgegate is far from his only worry

Published December 5, 2014 3:49PM (EST)

  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Did New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie know in advance about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge?

Who's to say!? The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the legislative committee probing the Bridgegate scandal could make no determination either way about Christie's involvement or lack thereof in the politically motivated lane closures, which the committee determined were politically motivated and intended to punish Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who unlike many other Democrats refused to endorse Christie's 2013 gubernatorial re-election campaign.

Expect Christie and his allies to seize on the committee's finding that there's "no conclusive evidence" the governor knew about -- let alone engineered -- the lane closures. The Christie's camp's victory dance, in fact, has already begun. Randy Mastro, a corporate lawyer hired by the Christie administration to lead its own probe into the matter, hailed the new report for corroborating his own inquiry's findings.

“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,” Mastro told the Journal.

Christie's Bridgegate woes are hardly over, however. For starters, the report doesn't vindicate the governor, leaving "open the question of when the Governor first learned of the closures and what he was told." Then there's the federal investigation into the lane closures, which observers U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman to finish next year.

Whatever Fishman finds -- or additional reporting uncovers -- it's hard to see any upside for Christie in all of this. He either knew of his aides' plan to retaliate against Sokolich -- and wreak havoc on commuters in the process -- or he's an incompetent manager who can't control his underlings. Given that Christie's likely 2016 presidential campaign will be all about what a True Leader he is, this stuff doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

As I've written before, Christie's White House bid is already dead in the water. Beyond Bridgegate, the governor confronts a firestorm over his state's pension fund. Christie appointed Robert Grady, a Wall Street crony, to oversee the fund, and Grady promptly shifted investments toward financial industry firms closely allied with Christie and his political interests. Grady's changes to New Jersey's pension investments have come at a cost of $3.8 billion to New Jersey taxpayers, and the promised "maximized returns" from the new investment's haven't panned out; indeed, they're worse than the median public pension returns for similarly sized funds, David Sirota has reported. Amid the state's pension problems, New Jersey's credit rating has been downgraded eight times during Christie's tenure in office, which has spanned less than five years.

The Republican base -- which hates Christie for his occasional heresies, like hugging President Nobama and signing legislation that bans "ex-gay" therapy -- has no reason to hold its nose and vote for the guy. He's clearly not a sound financial steward, and the mounting scandals engulfing his administration indicate that he wouldn't be the strong general election candidate Christie touters long depicted.

And the governor's base? The Wall Streeters who pined for Christie to enter the 2012 presidential race have already moved on. A poll of CEOs at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council this week found that 73 percent of them hope that Jeb Bush is the Republicans' nominee in 2016 -- and it's increasingly looking like Bush is ready to make the plunge.

So congratulations, Chris Christie! The latest Bridgegate report didn't exactly damn you. But you're still not going to be president of the United States.

By Luke Brinker

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