Bridgegate: Christie slams Obama prosecutors for altering ‘course of history’
Former Gov. Chris Christie, a once rising star in the Republican Party whose campaign for the presidency was scuttled in part by the Bridgegate scandal, on Thursday slammed what he called prosecutorial misconduct in the Obama administration's Justice Department.
Christie issued the statement following a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling overthrowing the convictions of two Christie aides involved in the 2013 political payback scheme that closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
Christie called the case a "crusade" by then-U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman and said the case "dragged through the mud" people "who had nothing to do with this incident."
"The leadership of the Obama Justice Department is also culpable for permitting this misconduct to happen right under their noses, authorizing Paul Fishman to weaponize the office for political and partisan reason," Christie, a former U.S. attorney who made a name for himself prosecuting elected officials, said in a written statement.
The Supreme Court's decision written by Justice Elena Kagan did not say that the lane closure plot was not wrong, only that the federal law did not apply.
“For no reason other than political payback, Baroni and Kelly used deception to reduce Fort Lee’s access lanes to the George Washington Bridge — and thereby jeopardized the safety of the town’s residents," the decision says. "But not every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime. Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws."
Christie has always claimed that he knew nothing of the plot, which was hatched by his aides after the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee declined to endorse the Republican governor for re-election. Christie was never charged with any crime.
Bridget Kelly — who wrote in an email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” — and Bill Baroni were convicted of fraud and conspiracy. Kelly was sentenced to 13 months in prison but never got to serve them. Baroni was released from his 18-month sentence during the appeal.
Unlike Christie and Baroni, David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors, getting a three-year probation sentence, said Thursday that he accepted responsibility.
“The conduct by me and others was still wrong. This is not a vindication. My apologies stand, my remorse continues, and I fully accept responsibility for my role,” Wildstein said.
Bill Baroni issued his own statement:
I am thankful for the Supreme Court of the United States for this clear statement of my innocence. After years of investigations, indictments, trials, appeals and even prison, today the Court has vindicated me and has made clear that I committed no crime.
I have always said I was an innocent and today, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed.
These have been very difficult years for me, my family and my friends. There were many tough days, and it was their faith in me and my innocence that allowed me to get through this.
My legal team has been extraordinary. Mike Levy and the team at Sidley Austin are extraordinary legal professionals, and it was clear the Supreme Court saw one of America’s top lawyers argue my case. Mike and I have known each other from the first day of law school at the University of Virginia. He is an amazing lawyer and true friend.
I have been asked do I regret going into prison even thought I have now been vindicated. I don’t. My fellow inmates at Loretto prison taught me so much about strength, resilience, and determination. They kept me going, even on the other side of the jail bars. And I shall always be there for them. I hope and pray they are well taken care of in this perilous time of COVID-19.
I want to thank my family who supported me and kept me strong. They never let me give up, never let me give in, and encouraged me to keep fighting all the way to the Supreme Court.
I want to thank my friends who were always there for me: coming with me every day to the trial; keeping me upbeat even in dark times and never letting me give up. You can tell who your friends are when you go through something hard; I am so blessed with great and amazing friends.
And thank you to my friends and family in Ireland. Many supported me by their visits, their thoughts, their notes, their prayers. Mile buíochas le mo chairde ar fad in Éirinn.
Today is a long-awaited victory. But, as we are all living in the time of Coronavirus, my joy in being vindicated is tempered by my concern for the people with whom I served time in prison. This is a scary time for all of us; it is especially scary for people in prison who can’t self-isolate; can’t socially distance; can’t stay 6 feet apart. I am going to do all that I can to make sure they are not forgotten.
I have always believed in public service. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled so clearly, I can continue my efforts to serve my community. And I am going to work to help those who are headed to prison, in prison, and getting out of prison. I have learned much in these past seven years about our criminal justice and prison systems. And I am going to spend these next years helping those that are caught in them.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.