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

“Chris Christie Spares No Legal Expense”: Short-Changing The State’s Pension Fund Is Another Story

Anyone who slogged through the 344-page report on Bridgegate from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s lawyers in March understood that this old fashioned whitewash would be extremely expensive.The governor hired one of the nation’s  big time law firms, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which dutifully declared that Gov. Christie was not to blame for the massive traffic jams last year. Those problems were the work of others, the report insisted. The governor’s hands were clean.

Now taxpayers are starting to see what that one-sided report is really costing them. The latest invoices show that the state has been billed over $3 million in legal fees for work on behalf of the governor’s office. The governor’s legal team billed the state $1.1 million for work in January and another $2.6 million for February. Since the report came out in late March, there will undoubtedly be a few more eye-popping invoices to come. Moreover,  other administration employees will require legal help as the investigations continue.

The governor and his staff deserve legal help, of course, and it’s customary for the public to pay for it. But at a time when Mr. Christie is squeezing every extra penny out of his state budget and short-changing the state’s pension fund, the governor has spared no expense on his lawyers.

Taxpayers should question whether the gold-plated report is, at best, another form of public relations for the governor. Despite all the interviews, the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher team failed to talk with many of the major players, including  Bridget Kelly, the deputy chief of staff who was fired by Mr. Christie, and David Wildstein, a former Christie ally at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The report blamed Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein for the scandal, adding disparaging comments about both.

Mayor Dawn Zimmer of Hoboken, N.J., who charged that the administration threatened to cut her Hurricane Sandy funds if she failed to support a development promoted by the governor’s allies, also refused to talk to the governor’s lawyers.. Without her side of the story, the report mocked her for yawning at a public event (thereby showing that she had not been upset about threats) and concluded that her charges “do not match objective reality.” The public is supposed to fork over millions of dollars for that?

The acting state attorney general, John Hoffman, should take a hard look at some of these bills and decide whether  the taxpayers of New Jersey are being over-charged.

 

By: Eleanor Randolph, Taking Note, Editorial Page Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 11, 2014

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crazy Men, Quivering Women”: Chris Christie, Surrounded By Emotional Liars?

How has Chris Christie “carried himself”? In a way that supports any story he wants to tell, apparently. There is a good man in the governor’s office of New Jersey—the lawyers whom he hired figured that out, after spending a million dollars in taxpayer money on an internal investigation into the decision to choke the town of Fort Lee with traffic. Their report clears Christie of blame entirely; while they’re at it, the lawyers say that Christie didn’t go after political opponents, didn’t encourage or create a culture that encouraged such actions, and was an all-around beacon of bipartisanship. The sad thing is that he had in his ambit a small-timer with “crazy” ideas and a woman who had learned that a man was no longer interested in her and a family member in the hospital which might, they suggest, explain why she was such a liar.

“We recognize that, over the course of his first term, Governor Christie has been criticized for being blunt,” the report says. “Some have even gone so far to use the term ‘bully.’ Frankness alone, however, does not equate to encouraging acts of political retaliation. And we found no evidence to support such a leap.” In other words, the only real danger in character was his frankness—and it’s something that he has managed to overcome.

“The Governor’s reactions at various points during this period of intensified media scrutiny, from December 2013 through January 2014, reflect the words and actions of someone telling the truth,” the report notes. It lists those “reactions,” which include bringing the law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; one does understand why they would admire that, just as they admire how Christie asked for nothing but the truth: “Governor Christie began the meeting by entering his office, slamming the door, and then standing at the head of the table.” He wanted to know all:

Members of senior staff separately recalled that, when Governor Christie delivered this instruction, he slowly scanned the room, making eye contact with each person, in order to convey the gravity of his direction…. No one responded. As they exited quietly, everyone appeared to be shocked by what had just happened. Members of senior staff commented that it seemed clear from the Governor’s words and demeanor that he had no involvement in or knowledge of the lane realignment.

And, at the table, supposedly quivering, was Bridget Kelly, his Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. (One participant “observed that Kelly seemed emotional during the meeting.”) On August 12, 2013, between 7 P.M. and 7:30 P.M., she’d called Matthew Mowers, who was working on Christie’s campaign, and asked whether Mark Sokolich, the Mayor of Fort Lee, was going to endorse Christie. She was told that he wasn’t; according to the report: “Kelly responded, in sum or in substance, that that was all she needed to know.” At 7:34 A.M. the next morning—just twelve hours later—she sent an e-mail to David Wildstein, the guy with the “crazy” ideas, who is also a Christie appointee to the Port Authority and went to high school with Christie, saying, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” And then David Wildstein went about creating a “study,” as well as some traffic problems in Fort Lee. They also e-mailed and texted each other during the lane closures—about how, among other things, the kids being kept from school because their busses were held up were just the “children of Buono voters.”

The reports’ writers, who include lawyers with personal connections to Christie, accept that the choking of Fort Lee had “some ulterior motive.” It is discussed in e-mail after e-mail, and not only by Bridget Kelly. The problem is that, because the people in the e-mail and text exchanges know what the deal is, they don’t need to spell it out. The lawyers acknowledge that there is evidence it was “meant to target Mayor Sokolich for some reason”—but they sure can’t figure out what the reason is. Nor do they seriously engage with the question of what or who else might have been at work, and what other interests, political or financial, the Christie Administration or campaign might have had in Fort Lee. In that respect, the report is pretty much useless. (It also keeps a relative distance from David Samson, the Chairman of the Port Authority and an ally of Christie, who announced Samson’s resignation on Friday, effective immediately.) Instead, it raises the possibility that this had nothing to do with Christie or his cause at all (emphasis added):

Rather, there are other credible theories that this could have been motivated, in part, by other personal or political animus, unrelated to the Governor or his re-election.

The bully’s eye goes to the girl in the room. Its authors say they have no idea why all this happened—just that Wildstein seems to have conceived it and Kelly “blessed” it—but they find it very interesting that Kelly had had a relationship with Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager. “Like the others involved in the lane realignment, events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind.” But we really only hear about hers:

And her first known communication to Wildstein about the lane realignment in mid-August 2013, for example, occurred around the time that her personal relationship with Stepien had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s behest and Stepien and Kelly had largely stopped speaking.

The Times spoke to friends and colleagues who were “outraged” by this portrayal of Kelly, which they did not recognize. Is the idea that when Stepien cooled toward her she lost her way and directed her unregulated passions at the approaches to the George Washington Bridge? What is odd about this insertion is that Stepien was part of the conversation around the closures—and a supportive one, outraged when a New York Port Authority official tried to undo it. Christie eventually asked him to resign from the Republican Governors’ Association post he got after the election. Both he and Kelly seem to have been fully, politically involved in the traffic story. (Both have taken the Fifth Amendment in official investigations.) But, maybe, the report seems to be saying, this is all some personal thing, part of the realm of women, and not the political one that Chris Christie occupies.

The idea that there are different planes comes up again, on a point so awkward that the report’s authors can deal with it only in a run-on sentence:

Wildstein even suggested he mentioned the traffic issue in Fort Lee to the Governor at a public event during the lane realignment—a reference that the Governor does not recall and, even if actually made, would not have registered with the Governor in any event because he knew nothing about this decision in advance and would not have considered another traffic issue at one of the bridges or tunnels to be memorable.

If this were true, it would have been damaging for Christie. But he does not remember, and why would he, if it was just David Wildstein talking? (The report is just as dismissive of Dawn Zimmer, the Mayor of Hoboken, who’d suggested that Sandy aid was used as political leverage—another drama, given similar treatment.)

The event was a 9/11 memorial (one of the low aspects of this traffic debacle is that it included the anniversary day), and there were a lot of people there. When the damaging e-mails about Bridgegate first came out, Christie held a press conference in which he spent a lot of time talking about what a nothing David Wildstein was—not his friend, just some guy. But what is remarkable about Bridgegate is that it brings together the Governor’s office, his political operation, and his patronage appointees. These are the people he wanted around him then; now, he welcomes those who disparage them. On Thursday night, Christie told Diane Sawyer that it was all a reminder of how “stupid” people could be, but that it said nothing about who he was or how he ran his state—or about what might happen in the 2016 election. People in New Jersey loved him, he said, “they love me in Iowa.” They are just waiting for him to stride into the room, slam the door, and stand at the head of the table.

 

By: Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, March 28, 2014

March 30, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christie’s Creepy Misogyny”: Behold His Despicable “Blame Bridget” Strategy

Gov. Chris Christie’s million-dollar taxpayer-funded self-exoneration in the Bridgegate scandal certainly found a bad guy — and it’s a gal.

Randy Mastro’s report put the blame squarely on two fired staffers, David Wildstein and deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. But its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her as “emotional,” “erratic” and as a liar; confirming Trenton gossip that she was “personally involved” with chief of staff Bill Stepien, and that Stepien apparently dumped her; alleging that she asked an aide to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began, thus implicating her not only in the plot’s execution but its coverup.

It even recommended that Christie abolish the department Kelly headed and fold it into another office. Mastro stopped just short of suggesting the state torch Kelly’s office and salt the earth it once stood on. That may be what Christie plans to announce at his press conference this afternoon.

Christie’s lawyers’ treatment of Kelly was so shoddy that Stepien, formerly the governor’s former right-hand man, was forced to release a statement denouncing the report’s “gratuitous reference” to his “brief” relationship with Kelly as “a regrettable distraction.”

Blaming the woman goes back to Eve, so it shouldn’t be particularly surprising. But I still find this story bizarre: Why is Christie so determined not only to blame his former allies, but to shame them? He himself called Kelly “stupid” in his two-hour pity-party last January, while he depicted Wildstein as a high-school loser to his student-athlete-president demigod. Now his lawyers have used Stepien to smear Kelly – and that’s pissed off not only Stepien but Kelly’s friends, who took to the New York Times to denounce the report’s heaping dose of sexism in its depiction of Christie’s once fiercely loyal aide.

Mastro’s report maligns Kelly’s competence from the beginning, noting that she was promoted to Stepien’s old job “though she lacked Stepien’s expertise and background.” It even resorts to inaccuracies to heap blame on Kelly, the New York Times reports, accusing her of canceling meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop after he declined to endorse Christie, when documents show others in the administration canceled the meetings.

Mastro’s report has done the seemingly impossible: It cost Christie the affection of the guys at “Morning Joe,” which has been Christie’s clubhouse throughout the scandal. As Taylor Marsh details (I missed it), Mark Halperin called the attacks on Kelly “sexist and gratuitous,” while Scarborough compared Mastro to “Baghdad Bob.” Of course, they’re still protecting Christie by blaming the sexism on Mastro, when it’s unthinkable that the million-dollar report would have dumped on Kelly without Christie’s say-so.

Knowing Christie’s M.O., if the Mastro report becomes a new liability for him, he’ll probably throw the former prosecutor under the bus with Kelly and Wildstein. But he won’t do it with the textbook misogyny he broke out for Kelly. Christie is delusionally headed to Las Vegas to kiss the ring of Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting this weekend, still believing he has a chance to run for president in 2016. Good luck courting the women’s vote, Gov. Christie! Bridgegate is turning into Bridgetgate, another story about Christie’s bullying sexism.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 28, 2014

March 29, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave”: Christie’s Exoneration By His Own Lawyers Is Even More Conflicted Than It Looks

Did you hear? Chris Christie has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the three-day lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September launched by his aides and Port Authority appointees as retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. So, who issued the exoneration—was it the legislative committee that’s been looking into the closures? Or the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey who is also investigating them?

No, it was Christie’s own lawyers. The New York Times reports:

With his office suddenly engulfed in scandal over lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey two months ago summoned a pair of top defense lawyers from an elite law firm to the State House and asked them to undertake an extensive review of what had gone wrong.

Now, after 70 interviews and at least $1 million in legal fees to be paid by state taxpayers, that review is set to be released, and according to people with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry, it has uncovered no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings…It will be viewed with intense skepticism, not only because it was commissioned by the governor but also because the firm conducting it, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, has close ties to the Christie administration and the firm’s lawyers were unable to interview three principal players in the shutdowns, including Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff.

But lawyers from the team who led the inquiry are prepared to vigorously defend their work, which they described as an unfettered look into the inner workings of an administration known to prize loyalty and privacy.

Lower down in the article, it notes: “Gibson Dunn has worked for the administration in the past, and Mr. Christie is friendly with a top partner there, Debra Wong Yang, who like him was appointed United States attorney by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s.”

That’s putting it mildly. What the article does not note is that Debra Wong Yang was one of six lawyers who received highly lucrative contracts from then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in 2007 to monitor a half-dozen medical device makers as part of a “deferred prosecution agreement” he reached with the companies after an inquiry into allegedly fraudulent billing practices. The contract that got the most attention when they were inadvertently disclosed in 2008 was the one awarded to John Ashcroft, who had been Attorney General at the time of Christie’s selection as U.S. Attorney in 2001, and who received between $28 million and $52 million for 18 months of work. Another contract that drew scrutiny at the time was the one that went to the former U.S. Attorney for Manhattan, whose office had just two years earlier opted not to bring criminal charges against Christie’s brother, a Wall Street trader who had been named in a civil SEC complaint but, unlike most of the others in the complaint, had not been hit with criminal charges as well. Both that contract and the Ashcroft one were the target of questioning by a House committee that called down Christie in 2009; the contracts also prompted a revision of Department of Justice guidelines for deferred prosecution agreements.

Now, two of the other contracts have come under more scrutiny. One, worth $10 million, had gone to David Samson, a former state attorney general whom Christie went on to name chairman of the Port Authority and who is now the subject of several federal subpoenas himself as the lane closures investigation broadens out into other matters involving the Port Authority.

And another, the amount of which has never been disclosed, went to Yang, who had in 2002 become the first ever Asian-American woman to be named U.S. Attorney. Her selection as a corporate monitor by Christie had raised fewer questions than the others, beyond the fact that she was a loyal Republican with close ties to Alberto Gonzales, who succeeded Ashcroft as attorney general. But as the Star-Ledger of Newark recently noted, Yang had in 2011 introduced Christie at a 2011 event in New York in glowing terms that suggested their association went beyond being merely fellow former prosecutors, describing him as her “very dear friend” and “truly the real deal.”*

And now Christie has hired her firm, where she is co-chair of the white-collar defense and investigations practice group, to lead the taxpayer-funded inquiry into his administration. In fact, Yang is part of the team working on the case, according to Randy Mastro, the former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani who is leading the team for Gibson Dunn.

Neither Yang nor Christie’s spokesman responded to requests for comment today, but Mastro previously dismissed concerns about any conflict between Yang’s receipt of the lucrative contract from Christie and her work on the team “investigating” his administration. “The work that Deb Yang performed years ago for a private company is completely unrelated to the work now being done in New Jersey today,” Mastro told the Star-Ledger. “Her reputation for integrity and independence is unparalleled. She was one of the most respected US Attorneys in the country and, before that, a distinguished California judge.”

This of course sidesteps the question: the work was indeed paid for by a “private company,” a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. But Yang got the job from Christie.

It should be noted that Yang’s history with Christie is only one of a tangle of associations and potential conflicts among lawyers and clients in the legal fallout from the lane closure scandal. Mastro, the lead Gibson Dunn lawyer representing Christie, had until recently been representing the Port Authority on a case challenging its toll increases. Port Authority Chairman Samson’s lawyer is Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security who is a predecessor of Christie’s as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey.

Most notable, perhaps, is the representation for Bridget Anne Kelly, the former Christie aide who issued the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” order and whose testimony, if any, will be so crucial to the investigation. She first hired as her lawyer Walter Timpone, whom Christie had selected as his chief deputy as U.S. Attorney before having to choose someone else when it emerged that Timpone had not been candid about a visit he paid to the home of then-senator Robert Torricelli, who was under federal surveillance at the time as part of an investigation into possible campaign finance abuses and had played a key role in signing off on Christie’s nomination as U.S. Attorney. Soon after Kelly hired Timpone, he stepped back from the case because of a potential conflict, his role as the Christie-appointed vice chairman of the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission. So Kelly instead turned to Michael Critchley, one of the most top (and reputedly most expensive) defense lawyers in the state, who has done a lot of representation of George Norcross, the powerful Democratic boss from South Jersey with whom Christie has enjoyed a mutually beneficial alliance. In fact, it was Critchley who set up a legendary 2003 dinner in New Brunswick between Christie and Norcross, at a time when Norcross was under state investigation—an investigation that was later referred to Christie but he decided to pass on.

In other words, a lawyer with very close ties to George Norcross, who already has considerable leverage over Chris Christie given Christie’s reliance on him for providing Democratic votes in the legislature, is now advising Bridget Kelly on whether she should or should not cooperate with prosecutors from Chris Christie’s former office in their investigation into what really happened inside Christie’s administration in the matter of the retaliatory lane closures.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave”—Sir Walter Scott wouldn’t even know where to start with this one.

*Addendum, 5 p.m.: As Matt Katz at WNYC has reported, Yang also contributed $500 to the fund to pay for Christie’s second inauguration this past January, just before she and her firm were hired for the taxpayer-funded job of representing him.

 

By: Alex MacGillis, The New Republic, March 24, 2014

March 25, 2014 Posted by | Bridgegate, Chris Christie | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: