Christie’s Bridgegate legal fees reach $10 million
New Jersey taxpayers have spent more than $10 million for legal services for Gov. Chris Christie's administration in the George Washington Bridge lane closure case still pending against two former Christie allies.
The updated total became known late Friday after the state released details for the first time on the more than $2 million paid over the past two years to a firm that's also owed money by the Republican governor's 2013 re-election campaign.
Invoices released by the state attorney general's office show the governor's office spent $2.3 million on digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg, in addition to the previously disclosed $8 million Christie's administration spent through December for services from the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher firm.
Two former Christie allies, Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that they concocted a scheme to partially close the bridge as political payback to a New Jersey mayor who wouldn't support Christie's re-election effort. Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein has pleaded guilty.
Christie, who ended his 2016 presidential campaign this month, has repeatedly denied any prior knowledge of the scheme, and a taxpayer-funded report he commissioned absolved him of wrongdoing.
Christie's 2013 campaign still owes Stroz Friedberg nearly $362,000 for its work in helping to respond to subpoenas from the U.S. Attorneys Office, according to a campaign filing last month. The campaign also owes more than $600,000 to Newark-firm Patton Boggs for work on the bridge case.
Christie's 2013 campaign treasurer, Ron Gravino, confirmed in an email that the debt is outstanding and said state election law prohibits it from being forgiven.
The state's Election Law Enforcement Commission granted a request from the campaign in February 2014 to be allowed to continue raising money to answer the subpoenas, but the firms were never paid what they were owed. Mark Sheridan, a Patton Boggs attorney who represented the campaign in that request, wasn't immediately available for comment.
The new information was released after The Record, a newspaper in New Jersey, requested invoices from vendors "engaged by" Gibson Dunn, the attorney general's office said.
The $10 million on legal expenses for the Christie administration is just one part of the millions charged to taxpayers in the investigation. They're also on the hook for about $1 million for an outside firm that worked for a legislative panel that investigated the case, along with legal expenses by the Port Authority and for the cost of the federal investigation.
Leland Moore, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the governor's office is using Stroz Friedberg "because of the wide-ranging subpoenas it received from the Legislature and the United States Attorney's Office and the many different systems and devices from which potentially responsive documents had to be gathered."
Lawyers for Baroni and Kelly have argued in court over the level of information they said they've received in the case. A federal judge this month said they could subpoena Gibson Dunn for what they contend are thousands of pages of relevant documents, particularly communications between people in Christie's office and the bridge's operator during the September 2013 closures.
Gibson Dunn attorney Randy Mastro has said the governor's office didn't withhold any documents related to the lane realignment, "so there are no other documents to produce in that regard."
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