TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former political strategist informed him that he knew about a plan to realign traffic near the George Washington Bridge the day before Christie told reporters in January that no one close to him had prior knowledge of the operation, the former operative said Wednesday.
Bill Stepien’s lawyer, Kevin Marino, demanded a correction to a report commissioned by Christie that exonerates the governor and concludes that Stepien lied about not having advance knowledge about the idea.
“Bill Stepien was not involved in the origination, the planning, the execution, the concealment of the lane closures. And Mr. Stepien never lied to anyone about anything,” Marino told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
Stepien said he told Christie in mid-December he was advised beforehand that the lane alignment was for a traffic study. He said through his lawyer it was one of many “crazy ideas” brought to him by David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that runs the bridge.
Marino also demanded the retraction of an inference in the report that Stepien did something wrong because he asserted his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination rather than turn over documents to a state legislative committee investigating the lane closings.
“It is the right of an innocent person ensnared by ambiguous circumstances to invoke his right to remain silent,” Marino said.
Randy Mastro, the lawyer who wrote the report, said in a statement Wednesday that there is no basis for a correction. Mastro said he hasn’t heard back after requesting evidence from Stepien and Marino.
Christie cut ties with Stepien in January after emails released by the legislative panel showed him referring to the mayor of the town most affected by the lane closures as an “idiot.” Stepien had just been selected to run the state Republican party and had been in line to run any national Christie campaign.
The scandal has been a major distraction for Christie as the second-term Republican governor contemplates a 2016 presidential run. Appearing at an economic summit in Washington on Wednesday, Christie reiterated that he knew nothing about the plot and said the bridge controversy would be “a footnote” by the time 2016 arrives.
Christie held a press conference on Dec. 13 to announce the resignation of his top deputy at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, amid the escalating scandal. He said then he had been assured that no senior staff member or Stepien had any prior knowledge of the lane closings.
In recounting that press conference, the report concluded that Stepien’s assurances were false.
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