At the outset, let me make it clear: While I am an attorney, I don’t practice criminal law. That being said, even a casual review of the indictments of Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly that were unsealed on Friday show that Chris Christie is not in the clear.
Paragraph 2 of the indictment (page 5) states that the conspiracy was ongoing “[f]rom in or about August 2013 to in or about December 2013” and that Baroni and Kelley conspired with David Wildstein “and others.” That is, Baroni, Kelley, and Wildstein were not the only members of the alleged conspiracy.
Paragraphs 53-56 of the indictment (pages 22-23) put Baroni’s testimony before the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee investigating the lane closures at the center of the conspiracy. Indeed, Paragraph 59.CC. of the indictment (page 27) identifies Baroni’s testimony before that committee as one of the overt acts undertaken by the conspirators. This is where a possible direct connection to Christie becomes more visible.
In 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that Philip Kwon, a long-time associate of Christie, prepped Baroni for five days prior to Baroni’s testimony before the committee. Kwon and Christie have been close for many years. Before Christie named him as an assistant attorney general, Kwon had been an attorney in the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey under Christie, and, in 2012, Christie nominated him for a seat on the NJ Supreme Court. After the NJ legislature rejected Kwon’s judicial nomination, Christie named him deputy counsel of the Port Authority.
You can watch the video of Baroni’s testimony. In the video, beginning at 48:44, Kwon can be seen two rows back, over Baroni’s right shoulder. The WSJ story also reported that Philippe Danielides, a top aide to Port Authority Chairman David Samson, attended the hearing as well. Samson is a long-time supporter of Christie. According to the NYT’s “Spectator Guide,” Baroni’s written testimony was edited by Regina Egea and Nicole Crifo, a top aid and deputy, respectively, of Christie’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd.
You have to watch the video in its entirety to fully appreciate Baroni’s mendacity. For well over an hour, he defends the lie that the lane closure was some sort of traffic test. It beggars the imagination that neither Kwon, Egea, or Crifo did not know that Baroni’s testimony was a complete fabrication and that one or more of them assisted Baroni in the fabrication. And, if one or more of them, or Samson, or Danielides, or O’Dowd knew and spent considerable time helping to weave Baroni’s lie, how could Christie not know?
According to the NYT, US Attorney Paul J. Fishman stated that “Based on the evidence that is currently available to us, we’re not going to charge anyone else in this scheme.” However, he “added that ‘there may come a time’ when other, unindicted co-conspirators are identified.”
Of course, the Christie folks have attempted to spin this as some sort of vindication. However, the carefully worded statement Christie’s office posted on Twitter states only that “neither Governor Christie nor anyone else who remained on his staff had any [begin bold italics] involvement in or prior knowledge in the lane closure.” (Emphasis added.) But of course, the conspiracy includes not only the lane closure itself, but the attempted cover-up as well. If any one of Kwon, Danielides, Egea, Crifo, Samson, Danielides, or O’Dowd knew that Baroni’s testimony was false, then that person or those persons too were co-conspirators.
At that point, the question becomes, much as it was forty-some years ago: “What did Christie know [about the cover-up] and when did he know it.”