If Christie Saw Something, He Should Have Said Something

In Newark federal court this week, there’s a lot more on trial than just the two defendants, former Christie administration staffer Bridget Anne Kelly, and former top Port Authority executive Bill Baroni.

Also on trial is whether our justice system is up to the task of holding our high-level elected leaders and law enforcement officials to the same social contract that binds the general public, both morally and legally.

The stakes are high. If a leader is not bound by these standards they are apt to become a despot, whose rule will neglect the welfare of the people and use the cover of their purported public service for their own self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.

In the case of the Bridgegate scandal, the central figure is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once led the very same U.S. attorney’s office that is now prosecuting the Bridgegate case. When it comes to the law and politics, New Jersey is a very intimate state.

Last year, David Sirota of the International Business Times reported that, as U.S. attorney, Christie hired 40 percent of the staff still serving in the office of current U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, with half of current staffers having worked with Christie while he was New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor.

In fact, several of the second-tier names that have surfaced in the scandal, like former Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak, are former Department of Justice employees who worked for Christie when he was U.S. attorney and were later recruited by the governor to work in his administration or to serve inside the Port Authority.

A spokesman for Fishman says that no one who was hired by Christie when he was U.S. attorney worked on the Bridgegate prosecution. But the longstanding revolving door between New Jersey’s U.S. attorney’s office and Gov. Christie’s office is bad optics at the very least.

Evidently, there are several individuals that the government says were un-indicted co-conspirators, whose identity is only known to prosecutors and defense counsel. The efforts by the news media to get those names publicly disclosed have struck out in the courts.

In their opening statement, the prosecution maintained that Gov. Christie was told about the political retribution plot to cause a traffic coronary in Fort Lee as it was actually underway, over those four days back in September of 2013.

According to prosecutors, Christie was told about the vindictive plan to punish Mark Sokolich, the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election, at a lower Manhattan commemoration of the September 11th attack on the Port Authority’s World Trade Center.

If federal prosecutors are correct, Gov. Christie has been lying to the press and the public ever since. If it is true, and Christie did not order a stop to it immediately, than he was complicit in letting the George Washington Bridge be used on the very anniversary of September 11th in a way that municipal officials reported stymied the work of local first responders who got hopelessly stuck in the traffic the lane closures caused.

To accomplish their scheme, the alleged Bridgegate conspirators also had to enlist members of the Port Authority police brass, who in some instances told subordinates not to say anything, even as the traffic went from bad to worse. In the cover-up phase of the alleged criminal conspiracy, the head of the Port Authority police union claimed he had originated the so-called traffic study, which prosecutors now allege was part of an elaborate cover-up of the lane closures. The police union had endorsed Christie’s re-election.

For his part, Christie held on to the traffic study cover story throughout his campaign and into 2014 when he fired Bridget Anne Kelly after her notorious “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” e-mail was published by the Bergen Record that January.

The manipulation of the operation of the George Washington Bridge, reportedly a top terrorist target, on the very anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, all to settle a petty political score, should be a chargeable crime.

Back in 2015, when I asked U.S. Attorney Fishman if the fact that the infrastructure asset involved was considered a top terrorist target should be at least an aggravating factor, he said he knew of no law to support such an additional charge.

By its own admission, post 9/11, the Port Authority has spent billions of dollars securing its regional network of tunnels, bridges, rails and airports. Port Authority workers were killed both in the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. In 2001, 47 civilian employees perished, including the bi-state agency’s executive director Neil David Levin. Another 37 Port Authority police officers also lost their lives as they tried to evacuate the public.

What if, on any one of those days back in September 2013, the George Washington Bridge had actually been attacked by terrorists, even as Christie’s operatives were keeping thousands of unsuspecting motorists hostage in a traffic jam they had created?

The events of the last few days in our region have driven home the wisdom of the post-9/11 adage, "if you see something, say something." While first responders did the heavy lifting in responding to the Chelsea and New Jersey bombs, engaged civilians were critical to an effective response and a successful apprehension of the suspect.

Regardless of our social station in life, we are at our best when we are a cohesive unit, looking out for our collective well-being. In the case of the bombs found in a backpack near the train station in Elizabeth, N.J., it was two homeless men who found the lethal package in a trash can and alerted police.

Should we accept anything less from our highest elected officials? Are they exempt from having to say something when they see something just because they are powerful?

If prosecutors are correct, and Gov. Christie did hear about this grand abuse of the public and the misappropriation of a critical transportation asset for partisan ends, as it went down, he needs to resign and be thankful that the U.S. attorney went after his subordinates and left him alone to pursue his ambitions.


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