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Christie's legal walls begin to close

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Preparing subpoenas for Gov. Chris Christie’s former office staff and Port Authority appointees, a New Jersey State Assembly committee looks into what’s known as “Bridgegate.” Christie claimed in a hastily called Jan. 9 111-minute press conference that his 41-year-old Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Ann Kelly instructed Port Authority appointee David Wildstein to gum up traffic on the George Washington Bridge leading to Fort Lee, New Jersey. Christie insisted Kelly and other appointees went rogue, ordering the closure of three lanes of traffic to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting his reelection. Assembly Democrats subpoenaed 20 individuals connected with the GW Bridge lane closings, including Christie’s former Deputy Chief-of-Staff Bridget Kelly, Port Authority Chairman David Sampson, appointees Bill Baroni, David Wildstein and former campaign manager Bill Stepien.

Since the New York Times broke the scandal Jan. 8, the Republican Party has closed ranks around Christie, despite not knowing any of the facts other than Cristie’s Jan. 9 story at his press conference. Conspicuously omitted from the discussion have been all the key players connected with lanes closings. When Wildstein took the Fifth Jan. 9 on the advice of his attorney Alan Zegas before New Jersey Assembly Investigative Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, it signaled stonewalling by Christie’s team associated with the bridge lane closings. Not a single person from Christie’s team has come forward or spoken to the media, now facing subpoenas from Wisniewski’s committee. Firing Port Authority appointees Bill Baroni and Wildstein won’t stop Wisniewski from placing them under oath. Wisniewski hasn’t ruled out calling Christie to testify as some point.

New York Times reporters found incriminating emails from Kelly and Wildstein in Aug. 2013. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly emailed Wildstein. Wildstein responded, “Got it.” Before the emails Christie’s office talked about the Sept. 9-13 access lance closings on the GW Bridge as a routine “traffic study.” Christie said in his Jan. 9 press event that he didn’t know whether the closing were due to a “traffic study” or political payback against Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich. When asked whether or not he’d gotten Kelly’s story directly, Christie said “no.” Christie can’t have it both ways: Referring to the GW Bridge lane closing as a “traffic study,” while, at the same time, firing Kelly for “lying.” Since Christie new about the lane closing back in September, why would he fire Kelly without the courtesy of an exit interview, when he’s not sure it wasn’t a “traffic study?”

Purging the ranks of his personal appointees as Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and Special Projects Director David Wildstein doesn’t sound like Christie believes the “traffic study” theory. Newly found emails show that top Christie aids and Port Authority officials show the Sept. 9-13 lane closings were political payback, not a “traffic study.” Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye believes federal laws were broken. U.S. Atty. in New Jersey Paul Fishman has opened up an investigation to determine whether or not federal laws were violated. When the New Jersey and federal investigators begin subpoenaing key players in the Bridgegate scandal, sooner-or-later someone’s going to talk. Hearing from virtually no one since the New York Times broke the story Jan. 8 indicates there’s an attempt to hush up the operation that points to Christie.

Christie’s defense involves that he didn’t know anything about the bridge closing connected to paying back the Fort Lee Mayor. New Jersey and federal prosecutors hope to get conflicting testimony or, like Wildsten, more Fifth Amendment pleas. “On the advice of counsel, I assert my right to remain silent,” Wildstein told Wisniewski at a legislative hearing Jan. 9. If more folks assert their right against self-incrimination it’s going to raise red flags pointing to Christie. “We need to get to the bottom of a very simple question: What possessed Bridget Kelly to say ‘Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee’ . . .” asked Wisniewski, not buying Christie’s Jan. 9 explanation that Kelly went rogue. “This is about public trust. Public trust was destroyed here because of somebody in the governor’s administration,” said Wisniewski showing no signs of accepting Christie’s party line.

Without hearing directly from the principles in the Bridgegate scandal, especially Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, there’s no way to confirm the veracity of Christie’s statements. New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, who’s known Kelly for 20 years, doesn’t believe that Kelly went rogue but instead followed Christie’s orders. “We’re not ruling anything out and we’re not ruling anything in. Were going to take it piece by piece, step by stem, ” said Wisniewski, including dragging Chrsitie in to eventually testify. Christies insisted he was “blindsided” but there’s plenty of reason to believe that there’s more to it than his closest staff went rogue. Announcing that he’s hiring former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro, Christie signaled he’s gearing up for a protracted legal fight. Christie’s story that Kelly and other key staff went rogue just doesn’t add up.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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