mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Chris Christie’s Problems Are Just Beginning”: Why The Bridgegate Indictments Don’t Clear His Name

While other Republican presidential contenders get to make their case for why they should lead the country, or take pot shots at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,  New Jersey Governor Christie is doing his best to not let his past define him. But when that  past, in the form of Bridgegate,  continues to dominate the news, that gets  harder and harder to do.

Just wait for the Bridgegate trials to begin.

If Bloomberg News is right, Federal prosecutors haven’t just been going after Bill Baroni, Bridget Anne Kelly, and David Wildstein, all of whom were indicted yesterday on federal corruption charges, and the latter of whom has already pleaded guilty; prosecutors are also apparently looking at former Port Authority Chairman and Christie confidant David Sampson in a separate criminal probe not related to Bridegate, but to allegations Samson tried to shake down United Airlines.

In the meantime, in damage control mode, Christie used Wildstein’s guilty plea and the indictments of Baroni and Kelly, and the fact that he was not himself named in the indictment, as proof that he’s in the clear on Bridgegate. In a statement, Christie said that the “charges make clear what I’ve said from day one is true: I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.”

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who has been on the Bridgegate caper since January of 2014, did offer Christie a kind of qualified lifeline at his press conference Friday, saying: “Based currently on the evidence available  to my office and the agents  with whom we have been working, we will not be bringing any further charges related to the matters discussed in today’s indictment.”

Yet just minutes after Wildstein’s guilty plea was formally announced, his lawyer Allan Zegas was serving up red meat for hungry reporters. Zegas relayed to reporters Wildstein’s contrition for his role in the  alleged plot, but before he walked away from the microphones, he re-iterated what he has said before, that “evidence exists that the Governor knew of the lane closures while they were occurring.”

Zegas told reporters that Wildstein, one of Christie’s former point men in the Port Authority, had been cooperating for some time with federal prosecutors, had answered thousands of question from them, and was still being questioned. Zegas volunteered also that “there is a lot more that will come out,” all of which he said that Wildstein will be willing to testify about at trial. Wildstein is scheduled to be sentenced in August, but that could be moved until after the trial, when the government and the judge in the case can fully assess just how well Wildstein cooperated with prosecutors.

When U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman was asked directly at yesterday’s press conference about Zegas’s tantalizing comments about Christie, Fishman declined to answer. When Fishman was asked directly if Christie “was in the clear,” he said “I am not sure what that means so I really can’t answer that question.”

“Is he going to be further investigated,” the questioner pressed.

“I am not going to comment on whether anybody is going to be further investigated in connection with this or any other matter ever,” said Fishman.

“Can we say [Christie is] cooperating?” another reporter asked.

“I am not going to say whether witnesses are, or are not, cooperating.”Fishman responded.

Another reporter asked if it could be said that Governor Christie had been misled by the conspirators. Fishman passed on that question as well.

But Fishman did have his version of a “stay tuned” tease when he confirmed  that other names might surface in the case as “un-indicted co-conspirators,” who may have been willful participants but might not be charged for their role in what prosecutors allege was a criminal conspiracy.

“The indictment does say Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni, David Wildstein and others” Fishman conceded. “We don’t identify un-indicted co-conspirators in our indictment by name unless they have been previously mentioned in a publicly filed court document, and that is not the case here. There may come a time during the course of the proceedings when we  will make a disclosure to the court or defense council who the co-conspirators are, but it is Department of Justice policy not to do it now,” Fishman told reporters.

“To charge someone and to convict someone, we have an obligation to only bring a case in which we have sufficient evidence  to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is in fact guilty of a crime. That is not the standard for somebody to be an un-indicted co-conspirator. The standard for an un-indicted co-conspirator can be less than that. It can also be that we don’t plan on charging somebody that was involved,” Fishman said.

The indictment charges that Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein purposefully timed the George Washington Bridge lane closures in September 2013 to create maximum havoc on the first day of school, punishment doled out after Fort Lee’s Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse Christie for re-election. What will come out in excruciating detail at trial is just how vindictive the plan actually was in its particulars. This will no doubt provide an opportunity for the news media to run archival tape of Governor Christie publicly offering the defense that the Fort Lee traffic jam was caused by a legitimate Port Authority traffic study, a cover story Federal prosecutors now charge was entirely fabricated, and a part of the criminal conspiracy.

Based on the tenor of  the post-indictment press availabilities for lawyers representing Bill Baroni, and a similar availability held by former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and her attorney, what the public is going to be treated to at trial will be a public circular firing squad. It will be Christie operative turning on Christie operative, all with their liberty hanging in the balance. All parties have vowed to mount vigorous defenses that will paint  David Widlstein as a liar.

And what do all three of these folks have in common? Governor Christie thought they were all fit to hold high positions of public trust.

 

By: Robert Hennelly, Salon, May 2, 2015

May 4, 2015 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Good News, Bad News For Christie”: The Governor And His Allies May Still Not Fully Appreciate The Broader Circumstances

Given all of our previous discussions about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) bridge scandal, it’s only fair to note, as Rachel did last night, new reporting that prosecutors have not yet tied the governor directly to the infamous misdeeds.

The U.S. Justice Department investigation into Gov. Chris Christie’s role in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal has thus far uncovered no evidence indicating that he either knew in advance or directed the closure of traffic lanes on the span, federal officials tell NBC 4 New York.

The September 2013 closures – where several entrance lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee were shut down, causing a traffic nightmare for commuters – has been the subject of several federal and state investigations.

Federal officials caution that the investigation that began nine months ago is ongoing and that no final determination has been made, but say that authorities haven’t uncovered anything that indicates that Christie knew in advance or ordered the closure of traffic lanes.

We don’t yet know the source of this leak or its veracity, but it may very well be entirely true that prosecutors haven’t directly tied Christie personally to the bridge closings. Indeed, as of late yesterday, the governor seemed to be feeling pretty good about his standing, as if this WNBC report exonerated him.

But even if we assume the report is accurate, and we also assume that federal prosecutors never close in on Christie personally in the investigation into this scandal, the governor and his allies may still not fully appreciate the broader circumstances.

The Star Ledger’s editorial board, to its credit, hasn’t forgotten.

Before he finishes this victory lap, a few reminders: No one on the investigative committee has accused him of personally ordering these lane closures. It is hard to believe he would be that stupid.

But what about the cover-up? What about the bogus claim that this was all part of a traffic study? That came from Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee as deputy executive director at the Port Authority, after he was coached for several days by senior members of Christie’s staff. Was Christie so out of touch that he was oblivious to all that? Hard to believe he was that stupid, either.

Part of the problem for Christie from the very beginning is that the governor’s best case scenario – the version of events that are the most favorable to him personally – is that Christie was such an inept and incompetent leader that has no idea that some of the top members of his team conspired to abuse their power in his name.

Under the usual conditions, this might sound like scathing criticism, but in Christie’s case, it’s his best defense. The governor and his supporters eagerly hope the WNBC report is accurate, so they can say Christie’s team deliberately crippled a New Jersey community on purpose, but the governor was too clueless to know what was going on around him.

And to this day, Christie still can’t explain the basics of how and why his handpicked team members abused the power he gave them.

For that matter, let’s also not forget that this isn’t the only Christie scandal that remains ongoing.

So I suppose what we’re left with is a good news/bad news situation for the governor. The good news, he may not personally be charged in the “Bridgeate” scandal. The bad news, the scandal isn’t over, the controversy itself still raises important questions about his competence, and there are other lingering scandals that may do lasting damage to his administration.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2014

September 21, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Do You Know Me Now?”: Ex-Port Authority Official Says ‘Evidence Exists’ Christie Knew About Lane Closings

The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday that “evidence exists” the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.

In a letter released by his lawyer, the former official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.

During his news conference, Mr. Christie specifically said he had no knowledge that traffic lanes leading to the bridge had been closed until after they were reopened. “I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it — and that I first found out about it after it was over,” he said. “And even then, what I was told was that it was a traffic study.”

The letter does not specify what the evidence was. Nonetheless, it is the first signal that Mr. Christie, a Republican, may have been aware of the closings, and marks a striking break with a previous ally.

The letter, sent from Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, is to the Port Authority’s general counsel, contesting the agency’s decision over the legal fees. But it is clearly meant as a threat to the governor. Indeed, the allegations make up just one paragraph in a two-page letter that otherwise focuses on Mr. Wildstein’s demand that his legal fees be paid and that he be indemnified.

Mr. Zegas did not respond to requests to discuss the letter, which also consisted of a strong defense of Mr. Wildstein against negative comments Mr. Christie made about him during the news conference. “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter added.

The bridge scandal erupted in early January, when documents emerged revealing that a deputy chief of staff to the governor, Bridget Anne Kelly, had sent an email to Mr. Wildstein saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” the town at the New Jersey end of the bridge, where Mr. Christie’s aides had pursued but failed to receive an endorsement from the mayor, who is a Democrat. The letter does not delve into the motives behind the lane closings.

A spokesman for Mr. Christie did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday.

Mr. Christie has steadfastly denied that he knew before this month that anyone in his administration was responsible for the lane closings, and his administration has tried to portray the closures as the actions of a rogue staff member.

The governor fired Ms. Kelly.

The closings caused extensive gridlock in Fort Lee, stretching some commutes to four hours and delaying emergency vehicles.

Mr. Wildstein communicated the order to close the lanes to bridge operators. He resigned from his position as the director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority in early December, saying that the scandal over the lane closings in September had become “a distraction.” In a statement that documents show was personally approved by the governor, the administration praised him as “a tireless advocate for New Jersey’s interests at the Port Authority.”

The Port Authority has since refused to pay his legal costs associated with inquiries by the New Jersey Legislature and United States attorney into the lane closings. In his two-hour news conference earlier this month, Mr. Christie said his friendship with Mr. Wildstein had been overstated; that while the governor had been class president and an athlete, he did not recall Mr. Wildstein well from that period and had rarely seen him in recent months.

The Wall Street Journal has since published photos showing the two men laughing together at a Sept. 11 anniversary event — which happened during the four days the lanes were closed. A high school baseball coach also recalled them as friends in high school.

The Legislature has sent subpoenas to Mr. Wildstein and 17 other people as well as the governor’s campaign and administration seeking information about the lane closings. That information is due back on Monday.

Ms. Kelly’s email was revealed in documents Mr. Wildstein submitted in response to an earlier subpoena from the legislature. But those documents were heavily redacted, leaving clues but no answers as to who else might have been involved in the lane closings. Some of the documents, for example, showed texts between Mr. Wildstein and Ms. Kelly trying to set up a meeting with the governor around the time the plan for the lane closings was hatched. But it is unclear what the meeting was about.

Other texts show Mr. Wildstein and Mr. Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, disparaging the mayor of Fort Lee during the lane closings, and discussing how to respond to the mayor’s complaints and inquiries from reporters. Those texts, too, are heavily redacted, but indicate that the two men were in contact with the governor’s office at the time.

 

By: Kate Zernike, The New York Times, January 31, 2014

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Chris Christie | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No One Likes A Bully”: Chris Christie Using The Power Of His Office To Punish Rivals

Late Monday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) top two appointees to the Port Authority, both of whom have since resigned, complied with subpoenas related to the ongoing bridge scandal. Soon after, state Assemblyman John Wisnieswki (D), chairman of the committee investigating the incident, acknowledged soon after that the probe will continue into 2014.

But while we wait for the process to continue and for the new materials to be scrutinized, one of the overarching questions is whether Christie could possibly be so petty as to cripple a community with paralyzing traffic, just to punish the local mayor for having refused to endorse him.

The evidence on the bridge controversy is still coming together, but Kate Zernike reported yesterday that Christie’s track record of bullying New Jersey officials for even minor slights is extraordinary.

In 2010, John F. McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman, made what he thought was a mild comment on a radio program: Some of the public employees that Gov. Chris Christie was then vilifying had been some of the governor’s biggest supporters.

He was surprised to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Christie, telling him that he had heard the comments, and that he didn’t like them.

“I thought it was a joke,” Mr. McKeon recalled. “What governor would take the time to write a personal note over a relatively innocuous comment?”

But the gesture would come to seem genteel compared with the fate suffered by others in disagreements with Mr. Christie: a former governor who was stripped of police security at public events; a Rutgers professor who lost state financing for cherished programs; a state senator whose candidate for a judgeship suddenly stalled; another senator who was disinvited from an event with the governor in his own district.

The whole article is worth reading to appreciate just how thin-skinned the governor really is. The piece points to example after example of Christie using the power of his office to punish rivals – even other Republicans – who’ve offended him in minor and inconsequential ways.

To be sure, this is not proof that the governor ordered the lane closures that crippled Fort Lee in September. But if there are underlying doubts about what Christie is capable of when it comes to petty retribution, the available evidence paints a deeply unflattering portrait of an intemperate bully, willing to use the power of his administration to intimidate, punish, and harass.

In 2011, Mr. Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard J. Codey of being “combative and difficult” in blocking two nominees. Mr. Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey, responded that he had not only signed off on the nominations, but had held a meeting to try to hurry them along.

Three days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events – a courtesy granted all former governors. That same day, his cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs. […]

Later that year, the governor was pressing hard on Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers political scientist whom Republicans and Democrats had chosen as the tiebreaking member of the commission that was redistricting the state’s legislative districts. Mr. Christie wanted Mr. Rosenthal to vote for the map put forward by the Republicans on the commission, but instead he chose the Democrats’ plan, saying it offered more stability. Soon after, Mr. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $169,000 for two programs at Mr. Rosenthal’s institute at Rutgers.

In one of the more salient examples, Zernike pointed to an incident between the governor’s office and the state firefighters’ union. Bill Lavin, representing the union, appeared on a radio show and thought he’d extend an olive branch, calling for new direct talks between the two sides. Bill Baroni, one of the Christie aides who recently resigned from the Port Authority, was then a Christie ally in the state Senate, and called Levin to deliver an obscene message from the governor in response.

“What he said a couple of times,” Lavin recalled, “was: ‘The governor told me to make sure you don’t get this message mixed up; say these exact words.’”

In other words, Christie wanted to push back against a perceived foe, so he called Bill Baroni to relay a specific, pointed response.

It’s a detail to keep in mind as the scandal continues to unfold.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 26, 2013

December 26, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: