Since the New York Times broke New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal, only two people, including the governor, have spoken publicly. Christie tried to control the message Jan. 9, holding a 111-minute press conference, throwing his 41-year-old Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Ann Kelly under the bus. Christie told an nationally televised audience he was “blindsided” and “lied to” by his former close aid, denying he knew anything about the Sept. 9-13, 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closing that snarled traffic from New York City to Fort Lee, New Jersey. When Kelly’s Aug. 2013 email, “Time to cause some traffic problems,” was received by Christie’s Port Authority appointed David Wildstein saying, “Got it,” Christie was embroiled in a potentially career-ending scandal. Firing Kelly, Wildstein, his campaign manager Bill Stepien and others hasn’t ended the story.
Taking the oath of office in two-foot snowdrifts for his second term in Trenton Jan. 20, Christie mentioned nothing about the GW Bridge scandal rocking his administration, maybe his political career. Just as Christie took his second oath, the first news about his former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly surfaced with her attorney Walter “Wally” Timpone recusing himself. “I have a conflict. I’m an elected commissioner. That’s where we are,” said Timpone. Acknowledging his close ties to Christie, where Timpone served as Deputy U.S. Attorney before Christie became governor, raised eyebrows. “I’m not representing her [Kelly],” said Timpone, acknowledging his loyalty to Christie. “I’m gone. And we’re out,” said Timpone, regarding any further representation of Kelly. Timpone’s exit suggests that Kelly, now under a New Jersey legislature subpoena, may sing like a canary.
In Christie’s Jan. 9 press conference he said he didn’t know whether or not the Port Authority was conducting a routine “traffic study” or whether it was payback as Bridget’s email implies for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s reelection bid. Kelly’s receiver, on the other end of the email, was 51-year-old David Wildstein who took the Fifth Jan. 9 before Assemblyman John S. Wisniewski’s (D-N.Y.) special investigative committee. Wisniewski has issued 20 subpoenas to a bevy of witnesses, including Kelly and Wildstein, connected with the GW Bridge scandal. Signaling that the long silence is ending, Wildstein said he was ready to talk if he gets an immunity deal. “If he has immunity from the relevant entities, he’ll talk,” said Wildstein’s defense attorney Allan Zegas. Timpone’s recusal signals that Kelly’s testimony may be at odds with Christie.
Assigning Timpone to Kelly initially suggests that she was prepared to go to bat for Christie. Timpone’s sudden recusal indicates a different scenario. “If you don’t check ahead of time, of course, you run the risk of having to dump a client later, which is apparently what happened here,” said an unnamed Washington election law attorney. “It suggests the lawyer discovered a conflict he didn’t know existed, or was asked or pressured to quit by the client or by other parties,” suggesting Kelly’s sudden change of heart. While the GOP accepts Christie’s denials, there’s too much silence not to suspect a cover-up. Christie asked folks to believe his trusted Deputy Chief of Staff went rogue, ordering a vindictive act on Fort Lee Mayor Sokolich. Firing Kelly didn’t sound like Christie believed the Port Authority engaged in a routine “traffic study.” Refusing to speak with her raises more doubts.
Refusing to speak to Kelly since firing her Jan. 9, Christie acted as if he concluded she was a liar, unworthy of an exit interview. As a divorced mother-of-four losing a $140,000 salary, it’s doubtful she would take this lying down, especially if Christie’s version isn’t true. With her family and career on the line, her father Richard Daul, director of Veteran Affairs for Bergen County, refused to comment on his daughter’s new attorney. Kelly got her start in New Jersey politics in Bergen County Assemblyman’s David Russo’s office. Kelly joined Christie’s office as a legislative aid in 2010, getting her big promotion to Deputy Chief of Staff in 2013. New Jersey’s Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, who’s known Kelly for 20 years, said it was inconceivable she would have gone rogue and exposed her boss to potentially career-ending shenanigans, not buying Christie’s story.
With 20 subpoenas circulating to the many silent players in the Bridgegate scandal, Christie’s beginning to sweat now that others are on the verge of talking. News that Kelly’s attorney Timpone dumped her because of conflicts-of-interest can’t be too reassuring to Christie who’s been in damage control mode since the crisis broke Jan. 8. When his old buddy, Port Authority appointee Wildstein, took the Fifth Jan. 9 before Wisniewski’s committee, it raised the possibility that others may do the same. Asking for immunity before he squawks, Wildstein raised the issue for Wisniewski’s committee whether or not witnesses can take the Fifth to protect a sitting governor. Whatever comes of allegations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer of holding hurricane Sandy funds for a development deal, Christie’s about to hear a different story from many of Bridgegate’s currently silent witnesses.
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.