Bridgegate attorneys: Traffic jam is no crime … and feds have no case
Lawyers for two former government officials facing federal charges in the George Washington Bridge scandal say the case is based on “fantasy.” And, furthermore, causing a traffic jam is not a federal crime.
In court papers filed Wednesday asking a federal judge to dismiss their indictments, defense attorneys say Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly committed no crime because they derived no financial benefit from the politically motivated traffic jam, which lasted four days in September 2013 and went on to dog Gov. Chris Christie during his unsuccessful presidential bid.
Federal prosecutors are arguing that the pair reaped a financial benefit because they did not use their own money “to create traffic problems in Fort Lee — for example, by hiring drivers to stage accidents to clog up traffic,” or pay a “public relations firm to spread the cover story of a traffic study.”
Attorneys for Baroni called this a “tortured hypothetical” and a “retreat to rank — and silly – conjecture.”
"If this were not a federal criminal case in which Mr. Baroni is fighting for his freedom, the above-quoted passage would actually be funny," attorneys said in their filing.
The case revolves around a four-day phony traffic study cooked up by Christie confidantes and appointees for the purpose of crippling traffic trough Fort Lee. Prosecutors said the traffic jam was meant to punish the Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie, a Republican, for re-election.
The bridge is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose leaders are appointed by the governors of each state.
Christie was not charged with any crime and has denied knowing about the traffic-lane closures. Taxpayers already have spent more than $10 million on legal services for the Christie administration in this case.
The lane closures were masterminded by David Wildstein, the former Port Authority executive appointed by Christie, who pleaded guilty to the charges and has promised to testify against Baroni and Kelly, who were indicted on charges of wire fraud, conspiracy and defrauding government funds.
Baroni is a former state senator and was Christie’s appointee as the No. 2 official at the Port Authority before he resigned. Christie fired Kelly as his deputy chief of staff.
Kelly’s attorney said the government’s case is furthered hindered because “there is no constitutional right to be free from improperly created traffic... There is not even a right to drive a car.”
The closure of the lanes to the bridge from Fort Lee on the first day of school caused tens of thousands of people to be late for work and delayed emergency response vehicles.
Baroni says his indictments also should be thrown out because the feds relied on evidence and testimony that he provided to the state Legislature.