HACKENSACK, N.J. – New Jersey prosecutors said Friday they will not pursue a criminal misconduct case against Republican Gov. Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
Bergen County assistant prosecutor John Higgins said in a letter that the state does not believe it can prove official misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt and will not be bringing charges.
The letter deals a blow to the misconduct case stemming from a complaint filed by former Teaneck firefighter William Brennan, who has declared himself a Democratic candidate for governor. A municipal court judge is set to hear arguments for the second time in a probable cause hearing next month.
Brennan's complaint says that Christie violated the state's misconduct law when he failed to reopen local access lanes in Fort Lee that were closed in an alleged political revenge plot to punish a mayor who didn't back Christie's re-election bid in 2013. A Superior Court judge this month sent the complaint back to municipal court for a new hearing.
Brennan said in an interview that the decision not to pursue charges shows that prosecutors cannot be "fair and impartial."
"This vindicates my position that a special prosecutor is needed," he said. A Superior Court judge earlier rejected Brennan's request for such a prosecutor. County prosecutors are appointed by the governor in New Jersey.
Christie's office said in a statement that the governor was "gratified" the "baseless fiasco" has ended.
"It is right and appropriate that this injustice against the Governor is finally over," spokesman Brian Murray said.
Two of Christie's former aides were convicted in federal court in November in the scandal. Christie has denied wrongdoing and was never charged in the case.
Superior Court Judge Bonnie Mizdol agreed earlier this month with arguments from Christie's attorneys that the lower court's October finding of probable cause was flawed. But in turning down the request for dismissal, she rejected their arguments that the evidence Brennan offered, which was testimony from the federal trial, wasn't sufficient for a probable cause finding.
If Brennan's complaint is allowed to go forward, prosecutors would have to collect evidence and present it to a grand jury, which would have to hand up an indictment before Christie could face a criminal trial.
But in Friday's letter, prosecutors say they've examined the transcripts from the federal trial and have concluded they could not prove the charges sufficiently.
Official misconduct is punishable by a potential prison term of five to 10 years upon conviction.