Preaching to the choir on his familiar “Ask the Governor” segment on New Jersey’s 101.5 FM radio, 51-year-old embattled Gov. Chris Christie repeats the same talking points from his Jan. 9, 111-minute press conference where he denied knowing anything about the Sept. 9-13 George Washington Bridge lane closings. Investigated by as Special Select Committee of the New Jersey legislature and by U.S. Atty. Paul Fishman, Christie insists he knew nothing about the GW Bridge lane closings that snarled traffic as a payback to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Christie insists he was told at the time that the Port Authority was engaged in a routine “traffic study” which looks now like political payback. Yet the Port Authority produced a “traffic study” to prove it was, in fact, engaged in an orderly study to determine traffic patterns on the GW Bridge, despite speculation about retaliation.
Christie can’t have it both ways: Saying he knew nothing about the lane closings, and, at the same time, acknowledging a “traffic study” was conducted. Producing a “traffic study” indicates that government officials tried to make the politically-motivated lane closings look like a legitimate Port Authority action. “The most important issue is, did I know anything about the place to close these lanes, did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it, did I have any knowledge of it before hand. And the answer is still the same: It’s unequivocally no,” Christie told a radio audience Feb. 3 on 101.5 FM. No one’s heard a peep from anyone other than Christie about what really happened Sept. 9-13, 2013, because the two eye witnesses involved, Christie’s 41-year-old former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and 51-year-old Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, have taken the Fifth.
Wildstein’s attorney Alan Zegas insists that he has proof that Christie knew about the lane closings when they happened last September. Looking for an immunity deal with the NJ Select Committee’s chairman Rep. John Wisniewski and U.S. Atty. Paul Fishman, Zegas has advised his client to assert his Constitutional right against self-incrimination. Rejecting subpoena requests from both places, Kelly’s attorney Michael Critchley asserted her Fifth Amendment rights. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly emailed Wildstein back in August 2013. Wildstein responded,”Got it,” producing the smoking gun but giving Christie a way out. Known for his micromanagement and tight control over his staff, it’s inconceivable that Christie was lied to and betrayed by “rogue” employees. Christie’s only defense over what happened is to deny he knew what happened.
Insisting on radio Feb. 3 that he didn’t know the lane closings were due to anything but a “traffic study” shows glaring inconsistency in Christie’s public testimony. “I was told as the time that the Port Authority was engaged in a traffic study,” Christie insisted on the radio.” “That’s what I was told at the time,” admitting that he knew something at the time of the lane closings. No one at the Special Select Committee or the U.S. Attorney’s Office believes that the lane closing were connected with a “traffic study.” Kelly’s decision, like Wildstein, to take the Fifth, points to an inappropriate use the right against self-incrimination. State and Federal Authorities haven’t determined whether or not state or federal laws were violated. If Wildstein and Kelly acted against self-incrimination they’d have to know the specific charges against them, something not specified by state and federal authorities.
Because of the virtual blackout of all witnesses connected with “Bridgegate,” the public is left only with Christie’s self-serving explanations. When the two principals take the Fifth, it smacks of a cover-up, not against self-incrimination but against incriminating Christie. Kelly’s attorney Michael Chritchley insists that it’s inappropriate for Bridget to turn over all her private information connected to the GW Bridge lane closings. “Unfettered access to, among other things, Ms. Kelly’s personal diaries, calendars and all her electronic devices amounts to an inappropriate and unlimited invasion of Ms. Kelly’s privacy and would also potentially reveal highly confidential communications completely unrelated to the reassignment of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge,” wrote Critchley, making it difficult for Wisniewski’s committee to get to the bottom of the Bridgegate scandal.
Taking the Fifth Amendment looks more like Wildstein and Kelly have decided to protect their former boss, until granted immunity to prosecution. Crtichley makes indefensible arguments about not complying with a subpoena. His client is at the center of scandal that could shed light on whether or not her boss knew about and condoned the lane closings. Bridget emailed Wildstein in Aug. 2013, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” What’s an investigative committee or U.S. attorney supposed to do, nothing? “A witness is legally required to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination to avail oneself of its protection,” wrote Critchley to Select Committed attorney Reid Schar. If Kelly or Wildstein face no crimes, the decision to invoke the Fifth is purely about protecting Christie. Wisniewski and Fishman must decide whether or not it’s appropriate for Kelly and Wildstein to take the Fifth.
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.