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Dec 5, 2014 8:30 PM

Bridge report leaves unanswered questions

The Associated Press

FORT LEE, N.J. (AP) Two investigative reports and millions of dollars later, the residents of Fort Lee, New Jersey, still don't have a definitive answer for why their city was subjected to days of excruciating gridlock last year.

The interim report from the joint legislative committee obtained by news outlets Thursday following months of investigation strongly suggests the traffic havoc caused by lane realignments near the George Washington Bridge was political retribution against Mayor Mark Sokolich. The Fort Lee Democrat had declined to endorse Republican Gov. Chris Christie's re-election bid.

But the 136-page document leaves open many questions about exactly what motivated ex-Christie aide Bridget Kelly and ex-Port Authority official David Wildstein to act and who knew about their scheme and when.

"Kelly's email to Wildstein, as well as additional evidence described below, demonstrates that the September 2013 lane closures and the ensuing Fort Lee gridlock were the specifically intended result of a calculated plan to clog Fort Lee's streets with unmanageable congestion," it reads. "What remains difficult to ascertain at this point, however, is why Kelly and Wildstein chose to cause the traffic problems in Fort Lee and with whom, if anyone, they conspired beforehand to do so."

Both refused to appear before the panel.

The report is also inconclusive about whether Christie knew about the lane closures and when and how his knowledge developed.

A report commissioned by the Christie administration determined there was "not a shred of evidence Governor Christie knew anything about the GWB lane realignment beforehand," its lead attorney, Randy Mastro said in a statement.

A criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney's office is continuing.

What is clear from the emails, text messages and testimony, however, is that Fort Lee's mayor who declined to comment did something to incur Kelly's wrath. Emails and text messages described in the report show Kelly's deep disdain for Sokolich seemed to take even her subordinates by surprise. But even as traffic choked his city, Christie appointees and aides ignored Sokolich's increasingly desperate pleas for help. The mayor was finally able to get through only after calling from a different number.

Lawmakers concluded that the mayor's potential endorsement "was at least a consideration in deciding to close the lanes." But without access to Kelly, Wildstein, and other witnesses and documents, they wrote, "the Committee remains unable to reach a definite conclusion as to what (and who) may have motivated them."

In Fort Lee on Friday, many residents said they'd given up following the ins-and-outs of the investigation. Others seemed resigned to accept that they may never know exactly why their city was targeted or whether the governor had anything to do with it.

"I'd say that we are never going to find out with confidence why it happened," said Phil Brainerd, 55, a computer consultant who's lived in the city for almost a decade.

He said he felt the process was too political, with Democrats using the committee "as their opportunity to make a Republican presidential candidate look bad."

Christie is considering a run in 2016.


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