If you're curious why Bridgegate happened, a clue from the new Chris Christie-backed report exonerating the New Jersey governor: his aide Bridget Anne Kelly was emotional, insecure, and perhaps lashing out after a bad breakup.
The long-awaited report finds no role by Christie in the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, as expected. From the outset, the report was understood to clear Christie from personal involvement in the lane closures, which backed up traffic into the town of Fort Lee for a week last September. As The Wire noted earlier this week, the report was completed by a law firm with close ties to Christie and without the participation several key participants in the closure. Among those not participating were the two that receive the blame: former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein and Kelly. But the two get very different treatment.
The focus on Kelly, the author of the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email, has come as a surprise. In an editorial, The New York Times calls the report a "whitewash," addressing specifically the report's focus on a brief relationship between Kelly and Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager. "The report says that Ms. Kelly wrote the now-famous email ... at a time when their relationship 'had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s behest,'" the editorial states. "It makes the absurd assertion that 'events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind,' insinuating that emotional distress might have caused her to orchestrate a traffic jam affecting tens of thousands of commuters."
Both Stepien and Kelly were removed from their positions when details of the controversy emerged in January. Stepien's lawyer offered a reason for the inclusion of the relationship in an interview with the Daily News. "If I were a cynical person," he said, "I would think that’s a rather blatant attempt to deflect attention from more important matters."
In a separate article, the Times details other ways in which the report depicts Kelly and Wildstein differently — despite the two having been found to be equally culpable in the lane closures. The report "moves aggressively to consolidate blame on Ms. Kelly," the Times states, while the depiction of Wildstein avoids similarly "personal language." The portrayal of Kelly in the report as "emotional" and being "habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the governor," doesn't mesh with the depictions from people that worked with Kelly, it points out. "I’d want her to commandeer the ship through a storm — that’s just how steady she is," one friend told the Times. Another: "If you’re going to throw her under the bus, she shouldn’t be alone under the bus."
The new report does offer more detail about the events leading up to Kelly seeing the email. The night before it was sent, early in the morning of August 13, she called a member of Christie's reelection campaign to ask if the mayor of Fort Lee had endorsed Christie. Once questions about the closures emerged last December, Kelly asked a staffer to delete an email in which she expressed pleasure at the mayor's frustration. (The staffer kept a copy of it.)
The portrayal of Kelly as unstable and in an emotionally vulnerable place might have been intended to help rebut one of the main questions Christie has been trying to curtail: that his natural tendency towards aggression and bullying prompted Kelly and Wildstein to act. In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer that aired on Thursday night, Christie assured viewers that he had "spent a lot of time the last 11 weeks thinking about what did I do if I did anything to contribute to this," ultimately deciding that, "I don’t believe that I did." At another point in the interview, he circled back to the other big lurking question. No, he doesn't think this affects whether or not he'll run for president in 2016.
Update, 6:30 p.m.: Kelly's lawyer responded in a statement reported by the Star-Ledger.
The report's venomous, gratuitous, and inappropriate sexist remarks concerning Ms. Kelly have no place in what is alleged to be a professional and independent report.