Christie Still Hasn't Been Arrested... However, Slowly But Surely The Law Is Closing In On Him
Chris Christie isn't on trial yet. But the testimony on the first day, Friday, of the trial of Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff and of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, indicates that Christie-- who has two years left in his term-- will likely face trial and impeachment by the state legislature. Testimony from former Christie crony David Wildstein-- who already pleaded guilty to 2 federal counts of conspiracy as part of a plea deal for his cooperation-- indicates that Christie was the mastermind behind the plot to shut down the George Washington Bridge as an exercise in political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee.
Wildstein and Christie went to Livingston High School together and both were campaign volunteers for GOP politicians. In 1985, when he was 23, Wildstein, whose family is very wealthy, was elected to Livingston's town council and subsequently served as mayor, where his abrasive style and right-wing extremism ended his electoral aspirations. Afterwards he surreptitiously ran a blog, under the pseudonym Wally Edge, PoliticsNJ.com-- financed by Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The blog is widely credited with having helped launch Christie's political career. When he became governor, Christie invented a make-believe, highly paid job at the Port Authority for Wildstein, his second highest-level Port Authority appointment after Bill Baroni (the guy on trial now). Wildstein had no job description but he functioned as Christie's spy and enforcer on the agency. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal's trial coverage painted a picture placing Christie at the heart of a corrupt, self-serving system.
At the instruction of Chris Christie, the Port Authority systematically allocated grants, vehicles and steel from the Twin Towers to Democratic elected officials from whom New Jersey’s Republican governor sought endorsements for his 2013 campaign, a former Port Authority official testified Friday.So... when will New Jersey's legislature start impeachment proceedings against Christie-- who was already viewed negatively by 68% of New Jersey citizens before the new spate of revelations. According to WNBC one Assembly committee chairman the chances are probably 50-50 that the assembly would pursue impeachment and that "obstruction of justice" would be an obvious charge against Christie.
David Wildstein, a cooperating witness in the trial of two ex-Christie aides accused of creating a traffic jam as political payback, said he had received instruction from the governor’s office to use the “Port Authority goody bag” in this way.
“The Port Authority was asked to play a role in helping the governor’s office secure certain endorsements,” Mr. Wildstein said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes asked who gave this instruction.
“Asked initially by Mr. Stepien,” Mr. Wildstein said, referring to Christie aide Bill Stepien. There were others, he added.
“What others?” Mr. Cortes asked.
“Gov. Christie,” Mr. Wildstein replied.
...While Friday was the first day Mr. Wildstein appeared in court, his presence has loomed throughout the first week of the trial. Defense attorneys, quoting witness interviews, have called Mr. Wildstein “maniacal,” “a miserable prick” and an “asshole,” among other labels. During opening statements, one defense attorney suggested the government had “made a deal with the devil.”
Federal prosecutors have noted that while Mr. Wildstein has lied before, his incentive to tell the truth is strong because prosecutors will write a letter to the judge with a sentencing recommendation.
Mr. Wildstein faces up to 15 years in prison.
In court on Friday, Mr. Wildstein outlined a systematic and organized plan to use Port Authority resources to support Mr. Christie’s re-election bid. The Port Authority provided valuable resources that the governor “wanted to get credit for,” he said.
These resources included steel from the former Twin Towers, flags flown at Ground Zero, World Trade Center tours, vehicles, patronage positions and grants, according to Mr. Wildstein. “The governor’s office was always to be the deliverer of good news,” he added.
In a May 2011 email shown in court, Mr. Wildstein wrote to Ms. Kelly, mentioning the “Port Authority goody bag.”
“I like goody bags!” Ms. Kelly replied. “I appreciate it.”
In his testimony Friday, Mr. Wildstein also discussed his relationship with Mr. Baroni, whom he described as “one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.”
At the Port Authority, Mr. Wildstein, whose title was director of interstate capital projects, functioned as Mr. Baroni’s chief of staff, he said. But because Mr. Baroni liked to be “the good cop,” Mr. Wildstein acted as the bad cop-- “being very aggressive, making sure that things got done,” he said.
The two men primarily represented the interests of New Jersey and Mr. Christie, operating according to what they called “the one constituent rule,” he said. They first discussed this rule in 2010, he said, at a Starbucks in New York City.
“The only person who mattered was Gov. Christie,” Mr. Wildstein said on Friday. “He was the one constituent. If it was good for Gov. Christie it was good for us. If it was not good for Gov. Christie, then it was not good for us.”
Mr. Wildstein’s testimony also offered a window into business practices at the governor’s office and the Port Authority. Mr. Wildstein said numerous people in the governor’s office told him to use his personal email address because such communications were considered “not discoverable” to public-records requests, he said.
The decision on impeachment will be up to Democratic Speaker Vincent Prieto and if he gives the go-ahead, the Assembly Judiciary Committee would begin the process.Friday, the NY Times also broaching the impeachment question, reported that "obstruction of justice means that an individual '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.' ... [A]n impeachment trial could mean that considerations outside the scope of the focus of this federal trial could be examined, including whether Christie and his administration used quid pro quo governmental incentives to compel more than 60 Democrat elected officials to endorse him; if the scheme of retribution extended beyond Fort Lee’s borders; and whether Christie and his staff lied or withheld evidence in a state taxpayer-funded investigation of the scandal. If Christie were convicted-- an admittedly unlikely political outcome-- it would remove him from office and preclude him from serving in any public office for the state, but such a prohibition would not apply to any potential federal position, including a cabinet post in a potential Trump administration."
It takes a majority of the 80-member Assembly to vote articles of impeachment.
If it passes the Democrat-controlled body [the Dems hold 52 of the 80 seats but many of the assemblymen are controlled by corrupt party bosses close to and in business with Christie], the trial would be in the Senate, where two-thirds of senators would be needed to convict. Although Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, they would need three Republican senators to join them if all Democrats vote to convict.
Last week, The Observer predicted that the intensifying scandal will make it even harder for the GOP to hold onto the governor's mansion, a laughable understatement. "Short on resources and resigned to campaigning with the shadow of Christie’s record-low approval ratings over its head, the state Republican party’s best hope could be for the governor to step down early. That move would see Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who has already announced her bid for the 2017 gubernatorial election, take Christie’s place in the event of Christie’s resignation or a successful impeachment."
Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison said that Guadagno, and Republicans as a whole, will have a tough row to hoe whether Christie stays or goes. She believes there is an outside chance that Democratic lawmakers might pursue impeachment.As Seton Hall University’s Matt Hale told The Observer, "Christie has so damaged the Republican brand in the state that I don’t think any Republican can get elected." New Jersey Politics, Inc-- the bipartisan, boss-run political machine that runs the state-- understands that and is trying to decide if it will get behind reliable Democratic hack Steve Sweeney (Norcross' state Senate president) or self-funding Goldman Sachs crook Philip Murphy. Progressives may have to chose between former Congressman Rush Holt and Jersey City's reformist mayor Steven Fulop.
“If in fact the governor knew during Bridgegate what was occurring, it certainly could be considered an impeachable offense according to the constitution,” she said. “It’s a much different gubernatorial race than with Christie in office.
“You have a Republican governor who has record low approval ratings, and one would think that they’re only going to plummet further in light of the revelations during the trial. You have a Republican party that has really been decimated in terms of both its war chest and its ability to raise money. And also, importantly the governor has really failed to develop a bench.”
Guadagno would have to distinguish herself from the rest of Christie’s Republican coalition in Trenton in just 18 months. Harrison called that a tall order for a woman who has been frequently relegated to ceremonial appearances during Christie’s time out of state. Other potential Republican hopefuls like Assemblyman Jack Ciatarelli (R-16) and Assembly Minority Jon Bramnick (R-21), she said, would also need to forge new images.