What Did He Know, etc.

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.”

8 thoughts on “What Did He Know, etc.”

  1. Here's what I've never understood about "Bridgegate": how did those allegedly smart political wonks on Christie's staff fix on something so stupid? Stupid because NOBODY crossing that bridge (as I've done a number of times in the past) would associate lane closures with the town of Fort Lee. The bridge carries a US highway and Interstate; by what stretch of the imagination would anyone think that the mayor of Fort Lee had anything to do with lane closures? If you're trying to send a tough message from the governor to the mayor, you need something else — curtailed state subsidies, a snub at a well-publicized event, something like that. But this represented sheer stupidity on the part of those zealous aides — grounds for immediate firing.

    1. The punishment wasn't about public humiliation of Fort Lee, but about making the lives of residents miserable by backing up traffic on local streets. Kids couldn't get to school on time, locals couldn't get to/from work, police and EMTs couldn't get to emergencies in a timely fashion. So: not about getting people to blame the mayor, but rather to send the mayor (and anyone else thinking of crossing Christie) the message "We can shut down your town whenever we want, and you'll have to pick up the pieces."

      I admit that my interpretation requires believing that the mayor of Fort Lee actually cares about the welfare of his town's residents and the smooth running of city services, but is that so unlikely?

    2. The lanes closed weren't on the bridge itself; they were on the entrance ramps in Fort Lee itself, thus localizing the disruption.

    3. That's easy. I think they were counting on the mayor understanding what it means when his city is getting screwed, people are angry, people are dead and nobody from Don Christie's office is returning calls. If, for some reason that was too subtle, I'm sure that somebody would have approached the mayor and let him know that if he was the Godfather's friend, well, the problem would be instantly cleared up.

      So the question is whether the mayor wants to be the governor's friend and show the proper respect for a man of respect and like that. Doesn't have to be crude or anything. This time we caused a traffic jam. Next time you could get arrested or you teenage child could be arrested with drugs. There's a million variations on the theme and the Christie mob know every single one.

  2. There is an even simpler question than "What did he know etc." That is whether Christie would credit with the "exoneration" argument if it were not himself but a political opponent who were in his present predicament. To ask it is to answer it.

  3. I do practice criminal law, and I wouldn’t read too much into the “and others” language in the indictment. It’s essentially boilerplate included in all federal conspiracy charges.

    1. Agreed, particularly since the U.S. Attorney has strongly hinted as much. Also, Wildstein signed his deal in January which strongly suggests that he became a cooperator at that time. The fact that nobody else has flipped suggests that, unsurprisingly, none of the other targets of the investigation would even give him the time of day. Even if they genuinely wanted to work their way up the food chain and go after their former colleague and perhaps once and future patron, it looks like they didn't make any progress. (Again, I personally don't think anyone really was very enthusiastic about taking down the guy whose been spreading the big bucks all over NY and NJ, but, in any case, it looks to me like they're just going to grab so low hanging fruit and call it a day).

      My impression is that this batch of indictments pretty much represents the folding of the prosecutor’ tents. What's more, I don't see the NJ office bagging Chris Christie or even wanting to. Christie's been building a machine from the day he took office. He spread around a lot of money to a lot of people who are likely to be very persuasive in making sure that the local FBI agents and prosecutors understand the importance of being a team player. I think everyone involved understands that there's a lot of doors that will always be open to team players but closed to hardasses.

      1. I humbly disagree and cite, as authority, Dr. Johnson: "When a man knows he is to be hanged…it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

        Well, on July 7, neither Ms. Kelley nor Mr. Baroni will literally be hanged, but I suspect that, as that day draws near, their minds will be concentrated wonderfully.

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