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Monday, April 14, 2014 - 8:21pm
CNN — The first news report linking his top aides to an alleged political payback scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge made Chris Christie "sick to his stomach," the New Jersey governor told investigators, according to a new memo first obtained by CNN.
After the report in a local paper, Christie called his senior staff to the governor's mansion. As the meeting began, he was nervous, unsure who else on his staff might be involved in the lane closures.
"He got emotional, and with tears in his eyes, asked if anyone else had anything else to do with the lane realignment, because he could not get sandbagged again," according to the memo.
The memo summarizes three interviews Christie did earlier this year with the lawyers he hired to investigate the political scandal. And it was a foundational element of a report, written by the law firm Gibson Dunn, that cleared Christie of any involvement in the scandal that has rocked both his administration and his presidential ambitions.
Christie did the interviews without a lawyer present and had not "read or reviewed the memorandum and has not adopted or approved its contents," the memo said.
Christie's memo was one of 75 that were publicly released on Monday, including interviews with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and other top staffers. Christie is providing the memos to the U.S. attorney's office and a state legislative committee, both of which are investigating the matter. They were posted also online.
"The voluntary production of these interview memos to the U.S. attorney's office, the Joint Committee and the public are being made at Governor Christie's direction and reflect his commitment to be as cooperative and transparent as possible," spokeswoman Maria Comella told CNN.
Much of the facts contained in the Christie memo were outlined in the final report when it was made public last month. But it does provide color and insight into Christie's thinking.
For instance, when Christie was first considering running for governor the idea that David Wildstein - who would later become the former Port Authority official accused of closing the bridge lanes - was an anonymous political blogger made Christie "laugh because he thought it was possible, given that Wildstein is such an 'odd duck,'" the memo says.
Added proof that Wildstein and Christie weren't close, the governor pointed out that Wildstein wasn't even a contact in his cell phone, the memo says.
The memo also describes why Christie decided to cut ties with senior aides Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Stepien after they were caught up in the scandal.
When Kelly's now infamous email to Wildstein, "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" went public "the governor concluded that Kelly had to be fired," from her job as deputy chief of staff, the memo said.
And while Christie wasn't sure about Stepien's involvement in the lane closures, the governor felt it was better to "sever ties with both" Stepien and Kelly simultaneously. Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager, did not run for state party chair and lost his consulting contract with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs.
On January 8, when a local paper broke the news that the lane closures could have been political retribution, Kelly was "hysterically crying" when she called Christina Renna, director of the intergovernmental affairs office.
The next day, Kelly called Renna "crying to say that she had been fired." Renna told lawyers that Kelly said, "I don't know what I'm going to do. You can't trust anyone, Christina."
The other subject covered in the interviews was Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer's claim that Lt. Gov. Guadagno and other officials threatened to withhold Sandy relief funding unless the mayor supported a development project.
Many administration officials interviewed on the topic either characterized Zimmer's allegations as untrue, or said they don't recall hearing anything to back up the mayor's claims.
An aide to Guadagno remembers the meeting between the lieutenant governor and Zimmer as "tense," according to the memo summarizing what Luciana DiMaggio, Guadagno's special assistant, told investigators.
"DiMaggio remembered that the lieutenant governor communicated that she was frustrated with Mayor Zimmer," the memo said. "With her counsel present, DiMaggio said her memory is not 100% accurate, but she remembered that the lieutenant governor communicated to her that Mayor Zimmer was not cooperating, stating in words or in substance something like the mayor was not playing ball or the mayor was not playing well with others. DiMaggio did not understand the context or meaning of the lieutenant governor's remarks."
As if to prove that she wasn't in a position to withhold Sandy aid, the lieutenant governor said she did "not recall ever saying anything substantive" at regular Sandy-related meetings with senior staff.
CNN's Tim McCaughan, Ashley Killough, Dan Merica and Robert Yoon contributed.