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Monday, September 19, 2016

Bridgegate Prosecutors Say Christie Knew Of GWB Lane Shutdown As It Happened

Perhaps lost in the breaking news about New York City (#ChelseaNYC) bomb suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami being apprehended in central New Jersey...

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew about the lane closures leading to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 as they were occurring, according to federal prosecutors making their opening statements in the trial of two former Christie aides which began this morning. The source, according to prosecutors, will be David Wildstein, Christie's former appointee to the Port Authority.

Wildstein's charge is not a surprise, given his claims (through counsel) virtually since the scandal broke and once New Jersey legislative committees began investigating and holding hearings in late 2013. Those investigations likely begat the federal prosecutors' investigation which led to the indictments of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly (who are the ones on trial) and to Wildstein's guilty plea, entered in court on the same day as Baroni and Kelly were arraigned in May 2015.

If the prosecutors' statements are proven, it raises the question of whether the statements will confirm or debunk Christie's possible statements to federal investigators who reportedly interviewed him about two years ago. It raises the thorny issue of what Christie said in that meeting. It is possible Christie took the Fifth Amendment on some questions, and that this information was not released. (That theory might explain why Christie may not be called as a witness, but we have to wait for the trial to unfold further.)

Christie has not been charged, but he may be on the list of unindicted co-conspirators which was kept sealed by a federal appellate court (Third Circuit) last month. 

The legal reason for deeming someone to be a co-conspirator may have little (or nothing) to do with that person's actual culpability. It goes to a method for prosecutors to expand their ability to use statements which otherwise might be excluded as hearsay. There is an exception to the hearsay rule when the alleged speaker is a co-conspirator, unindicted or indicted.

There is one other question to be raised, and it is less a legal question than a judgment and temperament question. Should the allegations be confirmed, they will make Christie look extraordinarily vindictive and prone to the abuse of power. These qualities will likely impair his attractiveness to an appointed position in a Republican presidential administration. However, they should also raise questions as to his fitness to serve as the United States Attorney, the position he held from 2002 to 2008 (appointed by President George W. Bush).







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