Whether you watched Christie's entire two-hour press conference, or just catch the highlights, you are certain to pick up Christie's major theme: "I am humiliated and embarrassed." "Someone I trusted betrayed me." "I'm sad." You might think that this was just monumental ego on the part of New Jersey's Governor, since he portrays this scandal as far more of a personal betrayal than a gigantic act of governmental malfeasance that caused full-scale disruption of commerce, put public health and safety at risk, and may have contributed to at least one death.
But this approach isn't about Christie's ego per se. It's about Christie's freedom. As a former prosecutor - one who put many, many Democratic lawmakers into the dock for "public malfeasance" - he knows exactly what his legal stakes are. That is why he must reiterate the "I knew nothing" apologia front, center and always. "I knew nothing about this until I saw it on my iPad on Wednesday morning at 8:50 AM.'"
What are some of the legal consequences Christie knows he faces? Additional details after the squiggle.
"What's the big deal over some traffic jams?" many comments on news boards read. The writers describe the staff actions as a "prank," the result of a "frat atmosphere," or some other high-spirited staff attitudes. The major thrust of these comments is always,"So Fort Lee had some gridlock for a few days...what's the big deal?"
The "big deal" is that the emails reveal that those writing or receiving them - Bridget Kelley, David Wildstein, Port Authority Chairman David Samson (a Christie appointee), Michael Drewniak (Christie's press secretary) and Bob Stepian (Christie's campaign manager) - all appear to be guilty of breaking both New Jersey and Federal statutes. The starting list of start of the potential charges include official misconduct, interference with transportation, risk of causing widespread injury, and criminal coercion, including both state and Federal statutes. Penalties are magnified by the Patriot Act, because the Port Authority is under a heightened state of alert. These could even be prosecuted as "terrorist acts," considering that the period of time this covered was over the 9/11 anniversary. Any punishments would therefore technically be of a higher degree.
Christie has to cut himself loose from the sinking ships of these five, or be dragged under with them. He's already "disassociated" himself from Kelley and Stepian. Most importantly, he also has to create a plausible scenario in which he was completely ignorant of the actions that are prosecutable. Legally, it doesn't matter if Christie was the originator of the idea, or even had knowledge of it beforehand. If, at any time before 8:50 yesterday morning, Chris Christie had any knowledge of the cause of this event, or the subsequent cover-up that his office arranged, he is guilty of felony conspiracy on many charges. If he did not come forward to proper authorities as soon as he learned of this behavior, he is guilty of misprision of a felony. Conviction on any one of these charges in a court of law would mean criminal sanctions. He would lose his license to practice law. Any of these are also impeachable offenses.
Christie is familiar with some of the applicable laws in this case because he prosecuted so many New Jersey politicians under them. His targets ranged from school board members to Sharpe James, the Newark Mayor of decades' standing. Christie ran for Governor in 2009 on the basis of his prosecutorial success - 130 convictions, zero acquittals - almost all of them Democrats. He got convictions for most of them on the basis of the statute against "official misconduct" in the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice regarding "obstruction of a government function", the New Jersey Official Misconduct Law.
A public servant is guilty of official misconduct when, with purpose to obtain a benefit for himself or another or to injure or to deprive another of a benefit:Christie must certainly know that he may be hoist on a petard which he deployed against others so often. All it takes is one credible piece of testimony or evidence, and he can be accused of breaking this statute.
a. He commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official functions, knowing that such act is unauthorized or he is committing such act in an unauthorized manner; or
b. He knowingly refrains from performing a duty which is imposed upon him by law or is clearly inherent in the nature of his office.
The bridge-lane closures may also fall under New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice Section 2C:29 2C:29-1 -"Obstructing administration of law or other governmental function" :
Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Governmental Function. a. A person commits an offense if he purposely obstructs, impairs or perverts the administration of law or other governmental function or prevents or attempts to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act. This section does not apply to failure to perform a legal duty other than an official duty, or any other means of avoiding compliance with law without affirmative interference with governmental functions. - See more at: http://statutes.laws.com/...These are just two of the offenses that allegedly occurred. Both of them are felony level. Title 2C requires a mandatory prison term of one to 20 years, depending on degree. Title 2C The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice - 2C:43-6.5 Mandatory minimum prison term for public officer, employee convicted of certain crimes; waiver, reduction
What about the use of state grant funds to create an illegal coverup of the crime? This seems to be the genesis of the "traffic study" that was referenced several times by Christie during the press conference. The traffic study actually exists - it just has absolutely nothing to do with the lane closures in Fort Lee. It wasn't even approved until the Saturday before the lane closures - a month after Kelley and Wildstein plotted the punishment of Fort Lee. The traffic study referenced was the result of a request by the Township of Springfield. The Township asked for $60,000 to fund a traffic study required as part of their intended grant proposal under New Jersey's Sustainable Communities programs. Now, anyone who knows New Jersey geography knows that Springfield, on Rte 22, has no traffic connection to the lanes which move cars from Fort Lee to the GWB. But apparently, this was the best project that could be found on short notice to shoehorn into a plausible cover-up. At this time, we don't know why this project was selected, because the contacts between Wildstein and Kelley are for this period are missing.
What we do know is that this is the traffic study request that Wildstein and Kelley thought most successful as the excuse for lane closures. On Sept. 7, the Saturday before the lane closures, Wildstein sent the following email to Kelley:
We are ready to do this, can you have someone call the Mayor ofThis grant approval, however, was what Wildstein could use as the basis for the creation of the boilerplate excuse for lane closures that Wildstein emailed to Kelley and Drewniak on the 12th:
Springfield and tel I him that Gov has approved $60k for their traffic
The Township of Springfield has requested LAP funding for a
Master Plan Re-examination Report. The Township requested
that the Re-examination include a critical Traffic Study for Morris
Avenue to assist in the redevelopment of the downtown and a
Sustainability Element to assist the Township in getting certified
by Sustainable New Jersey. $60,000.
The Port Authority is reviewing traffic safety patterns at the George Washington Bridge to ensure proper placement of toll lanes. The PAPD has been in contact with Fort Lee police throughout this transition.Poor Springfield! Now it finds out that its grant request was only approved so as to give Christie cover for this debacle! And did "the Gov" actually approve this himself? That would imply his furtherance of the conspiracy. Is the State Department of Transportation aware of the use of its funds to create a cover-up story? What about all those other municipalities who didn't get their grants funded? What legal recourse do they have when the funding approval for grants obviously is not based on the merits of the proposal?
However, the legal implications of this maneuver for Wildstein and Kelley are precarious. Apparently this shows that they are certainly misappropriating state funds in connivance of their own benefit....namely, avoiding felony charges and arrest. If Christie was indeed a part of this, as Wildstein's email states, then he, too, is also in legal jeopardy.
The documents provide ammunition for even more questions with potentially hazardous legal consequences for "the Gov." Christie is going to have to explain what he discussed with Kelley when she approached him on August 5 to arrange a meeting with Samson, as covered in her text messages. During the whole week of Aug 5, Kelley and Wildstein (at Port Authority) attempted to set up a meeting between Christie and Samson - apparently to discuss the details of the planned lane closures. Christie could only meet with Samson on 8/16, but Samson was not available. Thus, the f2f meeting appears to have never transpired. From the released emails and text messages, we cannot tell whether there was some other form of communication between the two - because of a two-week gap in the documents between Aug 13 and Aug 30. Since Samson is the Chairman of the Port Authority, an interstate agency, this becomes a Federal matter, as well as one of New Jersey jurisdiction.
We will have many chances to get answers for these questions. Democratic New Jersey State Senator (and former Governor) Richard Codey has told the Star-Ledger newspaper that he plans to introduce a bill that would give the Port Authority inspector general’s office subpoena power outside the agency as it investigates lane closures. Codey admits Christie is unlikely to sign the bill, but he says he may "try to get support to override the veto."
In addition to the Port Authority, which oversees the George Washington Bridge, the lane closures are also being investigated by the New Jersey General Assembly's Transportation Committee. Earlier today, a state judge denied a last-minute request from Wildstein, who was asking the court to excuse him from testifying before the state Assembly today. When Wildstein finally got before the committee, he pleaded the 5th. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has also called for a federal review of the lane closures. Any one of these investigations will most likely result in more 5th Amendment pleadings, as well as criminal complaints.
Thus, Christie's position from here on out must be to play up the betrayed dupe. He must insist that that these high-level aides "had no prior approval," and that he "had no knowledge before" he read it on his iPad at 8:50 AM on Wednesday morning. He must throw out the old Nixonian lies: "no prior knowledge." "rogue political operatives," "I feel personally betrayed." Christie is delivering these with the same combination of bluster, prosecutorial attack mode, and "aw shucks" comedy that he has always used. Today he added a new arrow to his acting quiver: humility. The act presented in his press conference today, however, will neither stop the hearings and investigations, nor calm the boiling pot of media coverage of a perfect storm of a scandal. This one even has the benefit of being in the backyards of the country's news production capital, so it's easy for reporters to cover.
Christie today admitted that his appeal is based on the persona he has presented. "I have spent my public career developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk." Whether or not he actually is any of those things hasn't mattered in a political climate where marketing trumps all. It's the the role he plays that so many voters swoon over. But Christie's future doesn't depend on the applause of the crowds. It depends on the vigilance of his prosecutors, as well as the one other factor he can't control: the desire for vengeance among those he has crushed on his climb to the top. New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, who represents the district that contains Fort Lee, told Politico today, "I think the worst is yet to come."
Those of us who are already familiar with Chris Christie's history of corruption, cronyism, and criminality can only hope so. When Christie today said that he tried to create a "family atmosphere among my staff," many of us in New Jersey must have thought, "Yeah, a Mafia family." Do whatever you can to make sure that this "family" never resides in the White House.
FOLLOW UP :rec list? Thank you, Kossacks! Thank you for the kind words, as well. Chris Christie has been a scheming, corrupt menace in this state ever since he was appointed to serve as US Attorney for New Jersey by John Ashcroft (to whom Christie later gave a cushy no-bid contract.) He is backed by a huge dark-money donor base, composed of companies that want to finish privatizing all government functions. Anything that can be done to stop this man and his backers before he steamrolls into the White House is work on the side of the angels.