Yesterday was a bad day for the Trumpist governor of New Jersey. He and his bozo buddies can screech “Lock Her Up” all they want but the chances of America getting to see the rotund Christie in an orange jump suit behind bars is now a lot closer. And this isn't even about the complaint filed against him yesterday with the Department of Justice by the Democratic Coalition Against Trump. They're asking the government to prosecutor Christie for violating the Voting RIghts Act. Recall that this past August Christie vetoed a bill that would have automated the voter registration system in New Jersey. The bill had widespread bipartisan support in the legislature, and received only one no vote.
Christie has more pressing problems than his pattern of violating voters' civil rights. It looks like he'll be the first of the big-name Trumpists going to prison. I'll explain in a second, but first, watch this:
Trump may be a loud, foul-mouthed buffoon, and perhaps a moron, but that doesn't mean he's always wrong about everything. Yes, Christie “knew about it.” In fact, as I've always said– from the first day– Christie ordered it. And then directed the coverup. As Ken reported moments after the guilty verdict, two of Christie's top aides were convicted on ALL charges. Kate Zernike's NY Times coverage pointed out that although Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, were the only ones charged– and could serve 20 years each– that the trial made it clear that their boss, Christie, “was deeply involved.”
The scandal not only crippled Mr. Christie’s presidential candidacy this year, but tarnished his reputation at a time when he has been a key player in Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, named to lead his White House transition team and serving as a political surrogate. Mr. Christie is scheduled to campaign for Mr. Trump this weekend in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, two key battleground states, ahead of Tuesday’s election.
…The scandal has been the biggest political corruption case in New Jersey in years, riveting a state that has a long history of official malfeasance and leaving Mr. Christie deeply unpopular among his constituents.
In the six-week trial here in federal court, the prosecution and the defense both portrayed the Christie administration as a relentlessly political operation in the service of a fiery-tempered and ambitious governor.
Aides began using government resources to seek political endorsements the year Mr. Christie, a Republican, entered office, with an eye to winning not just a broad re-election victory, but also to the presidential race six years away.
Ms. Kelly, who was deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, sent the blunt email that prosecutors said set off the scheme and, when it was made public by a legislative subpoena in 2014, the scandal: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Mr. Baroni, once Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, had ignored increasingly agitated phone, text and email messages from the mayor of Fort Lee about “an urgent matter of public safety” there, with emergency vehicles, school buses and commuters stuck in catastrophic traffic jams. Mr. Christie had avidly but unsuccessfully sought endorsement for re-election from the mayor, Mark J. Sokolich, a Democrat.
On the stand, both defendants said they had been duped by another Christie associate, David Wildstein, into believing that the lane closings were a legitimate traffic study. Mr. Wildstein, a secretive former political blogger, had been appointed as an enforcer for Mr. Christie at the Port Authority. Mr. Wildstein pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme and became the star witness for the government.
Mr. Wildstein testified that he had told Mr. Christie about the scheme at a Sept. 11 memorial service, in the middle of the lane closings. And Ms. Kelly testified that she had received the governor’s approval before sending the email triggering what she thought was the traffic study.
But prosecutors had drawn the charges tightly around the specific crime of closing the lanes and then covering up the scheme. At their urging, the judge had explicitly instructed the jury not to consider why other potential co-conspirators were not on trial.
Tom Moran, a Newark Star-Ledger editor, worries that “the big guy got away,” while “both Kelly and Bill Baroni are now felons… Christie was smart enough to hide his tracks, guided no doubt by his years as a federal prosecutor. He is the firefighter who knows the tricks well enough to get away with arson.”
He deleted sensitive text messages he exchanged with a top aide at a pivotal moment in this conspiracy, and both now say they can't remember a single word of it. How convenient.
He surrounded himself with an inner circle that was more loyal than principled– all of whom kept quiet for three years as they watched him lie to us.
They knew Christie was not “blindsided” by rogue staff, as he claimed in his famous mea culpa news conference of January 2014. Three of his closest aides admitted under oath that they had spoken to him about this caper much earlier.
So why was the governor not charged? Because knowledge of the plot, while ruinous to his political standing, is not a crime in itself. And because prosecutors had no emails or texts to hang him with, as they did with Baroni and Kelly.
So the governor will limp onward, damaged but free, never held to account.
That leaves a bad taste. It recalls the 11 common U.S. soldiers convicted of torture at Abu Graib prison in Iraq, while the general who ran the prison got off with a reprimand. Who would say that justice was done?
Defense attorney Michael Critchley spoke to this frustration in his closing argument, when he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted the question on everyone's mind:
“Chris Christie: Where are you?”
For six weeks, the governor's ghost was the dominant figure in this courtroom, as nearly three dozen witnesses lifted the lid on this administration's barrel of stink.
Rank-and-file employees described using their time on the job to hustle for endorsements, offering prizes like chunks of steel from the rubble of the September 11 attacks, or tickets to a Giants game, or a Port Authority grant for a favorite cause. They needed a spreadsheet to keep track of it all.
Kelly described the governor as a monster behind closed doors, prone to tantrums filled with the worst obscenities. In one of his rages, she said, he threw a water bottle that hit her in the arm as she tried to jump out of the way. “I was scared,” she told jurors, her voice cracking.
The governor used the Port Authority as a political slush fund, something to ponder each time you pay that damn $15 toll to cross the river.
He used a cut of toll money to finance a new park for his buddy Joe DiVincenzo, the Essex County executive; to buy land in Bayonne to help a friendly mayor, and to donate cash to a favorite charity of a senator in Hudson County.
He gave a high-paying job at the Port Authority to Jerry Speziale, the Democratic sheriff in Passaic County, on the condition that he would not use his $1 million in campaign funds against Republicans, according to testimony.
Even the small stuff was revealing: Christie once ordered Baroni to pass on an obscene threat, word for word, to a police union official he didn't like. When Baroni hesitating, saying the man was a friend, the governor threatened him.
“Do you like your job?” he asked. Baroni made the call.
It's no surprise that Christie is a bully. But it is a surprise to learn that it's much worse than we had thought.
Turn to the two who were convicted, and you find no more satisfaction. Even at this lower level, the worst miscreant got away.
David Wildstein, the star witness, was also the star villain. He confessed to a career as a dark political operative, a lie and a cheat, a man without honor. Bridgegate was all his nutty idea. He pushed it relentlessly. He gave the orders to move the cones.
But he was smart enough to cut a deal, to throw his friends overboard, so he will almost certainly slither away as a free man.
They got Baroni, once a promising young senator many believed would be governor, a lawyer known for his vigilance on ethics, of all things. We learned during the trial that he was also an FBI informant from 2005 to 2010, mostly when Christie was U.S. Attorney.
Was it ambition that drove him so far off course, the dream of following Christie to the White House? Is sipping from that cup really this disorienting? I once knew Baroni well, and I am at a loss.
He is a felon now, his legal career replaced by legal bills. And he will be remembered always for the audacity of his lies when he testified before the Legislature about this “traffic study.”
…After this verdict, the governor ignored all the damning testimony about his knowledge of this, about sick culture of his administration, about the misuse of taxpayer money for his political ends.
Will the Legislature drag him in now, put him under oath, and get to the truth? Until that happens, the bad taste left by this trial is bound to linger.
I'm sure everyone must be asking themselves why, if Trump knew Christie was guilty (as he explained in the tape above), he hired him as the head of his transition team. Even Trump fans might ask themselves about how that could happen. A little update: the Trump campaign ordered Pig Man to cancel all his appearances for Trump this weekend, including the four– in Exeter, Stratham, Salem and Windham– he was supposed to do today in must-win, absolutely crucial-crucial New Hampshire.
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“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis