The attorney representing David Wildstein, the man who on Friday pleaded guilty to arranging the shut-down of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge as political payback against a New Jersey mayor, renewed his claim that Governor Chris Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening and said again that “evidence exists” that can prove it.
Attorney Alan Zegas made the claim after his client entered his plea but said that because an investigation is ongoing, he could not share more details. Wildstein’s court appearance came on the same day that U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul J. Fishman announced the indictment of Bridget Anne Kelley, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Wildstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy against civil rights for ordering the closure of two out of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., over the course of four days in September, 2013. The shutdown caused massive traffic delays that tied up school buses, emergency vehicles, and untold thousands of commuters. Wildstein and others in the administration then attempted to convince the New Jersey legislature and other officials that the shut down had been part of a traffic study.
Fishman also made it clear, in a press conference, that there may be more to come from his investigation. While he said there will likely be no more charges – meaning that Christie is unlikely to face prosecution himself – he also said more information will be revealed at trial. “It's like the end of Downton Abbey. You have to wait for the next season,” he said.
The indictments mention unindicted co-conspirators who might be named in the future, Fishman told the media, though he offered no hints as to who they might be. He was careful not to discuss Christie himself and would not play ball when reporters tried to get him to discuss the “culture” of the Christie administration.
For his part, Christie played up the announcement as a vindication of everything he has said since the story first broke.
But while today’s announcement was hardly the worst outcome for Christie, it was nonetheless very bad news for a man considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
At the very least, it shows that prosecutors believe he ran an administration where a stunt that had an impact on thousands and endangered people in need of emergency medical care was considered an acceptable form of political payback.
Potentially worse, though, are the allegations, still being trumpeted by Zegas, that Christie knew about the lane closures. What helped Christie survive the initial onslaught of bad press that followed the first reports of the scandal was his appearance of forthrightness in addressing it.
In addition to firing aides implicated in the lane closing, Christie appeared at a nearly two-hour press conference and dropped, for the most part, his typically combative stance toward reporters in favor of contrition. He accepted ultimate responsibility, apologized, but said that he had known nothing about the lane closures until after it was all over. His performance was widely praised and did much to preserve his viability as a presidential candidate.
If Zegas is correct – and he is arguably risking his professional reputation if he’s not – it would be a powerful blow to Christie’s credibility. Combine Zegas’s continued insistence that Christie was aware of the closures with the existence of unidentified co-conspirators named in the indictments issued today, and there is plenty of grist for political opponents to use in attacks on Christie during the Republican primary.
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