Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

PunditFact: Fact-checking the Sunday news shows

An internal report clearing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie of wrongdoing in the "Bridgegate" scandal has breathed new life into the months-old controversy.

On Sunday, politicians and pundits debated the findings of the report — which was ordered by Christie — and how much stock to put into the investigation in the first place.

Former New York City mayor and Christie ally Rudy Giuliani said the report isn't a complete investigation, but it is a good first step. "I think this is a pretty strong report. It is not conclusive. No one claims it is, but it's a good step in the right direction," Giuliani said on Meet the Press.

The line caught us, and New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat, a bit off guard. Speaking later, Weinberg said: "It's the governor who's saying it's conclusive."

We wanted to see just what the report says and how some are interpreting it.

According to the report, investigators had access to personal and private email accounts and phone records of Christie and his current and former staff members. They reviewed more than 250,000 documents and conducted 70 interviews.

The findings were detailed in a 360-page document looking at both the bridge scandal and allegations Christie withheld Hurricane Sandy aid from a New Jersey town for political reasons.

The authors are upfront that there is one big hole in their investigation: They were not able to interview Christie aide Bridget Kelly or Port Authority official David Wildstein. But that didn't keep them from strong conclusions.

"Based on our investigation, we are now in a position to address most but not all of these allegations, as several key witnesses have refused to cooperate with our investigation or asserted their Fifth Amendment rights," the report said.

The report concluded that those two individuals were at the center of the controversy, and the only major missing piece is understanding why they took such actions.

"We are therefore confident that, based on our thorough review, we have a clear understanding of what happened here, even if the participants' precise motives remain to be determined," the report said.

Later, in the conclusion, the report stated rather definitively: "In sum, we have not found any evidence of anyone in the governor's office knowing about the lane realignment beforehand or otherwise being involved, besides Bridget Kelly. Whatever motivated Wildstein and Kelly to act as they did, it was not at the behest of Gov. Christie, who knew nothing about it."

Christie took questions from reporters for more than an hour last week after the report was released, his first since the early days of the controversy. In his remarks, Christie called the report "exhaustive" in its breadth and the access investigators were allowed. He noted he even turned over his personal cellphone.

"It's an exhaustive report that follows the mandate that I set out when I commissioned the review," Christie said. "I told (lawyer Randy Mastro) to go find the truth no matter where it led and to turn over every rock to get to the bottom of what happened and to let me know what the truth was."

For his part, Mastro had strong language in backing up the report's findings and on ABC's This Week, Mastro didn't hold back.

"I have to say this, for the skeptics out there, there are some who have a visceral reaction to this bridge controversy," he said. "Reminds me of the (A Few Good Men) movie line, 'They can't handle the truth.' We believe we got to the truth."

The broader point here, of course, is that critics of the report say the investigation is anything but conclusive, as it was ordered by Christie. In that regard, Giuliani was no doubt trying to tamp down any fires.

But in doing so he ignored the claims of both Christie and Mastro. We rate Giuliani's statement Mostly False.

Staff writers Steve Contorno and Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is the editor of PunditFact.com.

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