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Katz on Christie

A regular blog that keeps tabs on the activities and fortunes of our renowned Governor, Chris Christie.
Wildstein Implicates Christie's Campaign Manager -- and More Bridgegate Trial Day 6 Takeaways
Matt Katz | September 27, 2016

Monday's entire day of proceedings in Bridgegate was a continuation of prosecutors' questioning of David Wildstein, the admitted Bridgegate co-conspirator who is cooperating with authorities and testifying on behalf of the prosecution. He revealed lots of new nuggets about the inner workings of the Christie Administration and its efforts at punishing the mayor of Fort Lee with traffic jams for not endorsing Gov. Chris Christie. 

1. The Donald Trump campaign's national field director "knew." Before Bill Stepien was Trump’s national field director, he was Christie’s political Svengali. He ran Christie’s underdog campaign for governor, then ran the unit in the governor’s office that was used to win endorsements from mayors by giving them stuff, like tickets to sports games or wreckage from Ground Zero. The mayor of Fort Lee got all of this, but when he decided not to endorse, Wildstein helped to punish him by closing the lanes. Wildstein said today in court that he told Stepien about the plan beforehand, while Stepien was running Christie's reelection campaign. Wildstein also said he told Stepien how he’d cover it all up by claiming the traffic was just because of some traffic study.

Stepien, through his attorney Kevin Marino, denied having anything to do with this: "The government investigated the entire Bridgegate affair for 16 months, interviewed Mr. Wildstein and scores of other witnesses on multiple occasions, reviewed thousands of documents including hundreds of emails, and in the end did not charge Mr. Stepien with wrongdoing of any kind. That is because Mr. Stepien did not engage in wrongdoing of any kind. Despite what Mr. Wildstein apparently feels compelled to say now, Mr. Stepien  had no role in planning, approving or concealing his ill-advised scheme to close access lanes to the GWB."

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Christie Takes a Beating in Bridgegate Trial Opening: 10 Takeaways
Matt Katz and Andrea Bernstein | September 19, 2016
  1. Christie knew. Since the Bridgegate scandal broke, the key organizer of the lane closures, David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty, has hinted that “evidence exists” that Christie knew of the closures while they were happening. Now, prosecutors came out and said it. On the third day of the closures, at a Sept. 11 memorial service at the World Trade Center, Wildstein and defendant Bill Baroni had a “precious few minutes with Gov. Christie," assistant U.S. attorney Vikas Khanna told the jury. The pair "bragged about the traffic problems they were having in Fort Lee and that Mayor Sokolich was not getting his calls returned.” Christie hasn’t explicitly denied that Wildstein raised the issue of the traffic jams at that event, but has said he wouldn’t remember it if Wildstein had, because traffic problems are so common in New Jersey. Today’s arguments indicate that Christie was told about the closures, and not just in passing.

  2. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email was just a joke. Michael Critchley, attorney for Bridget Anne Kelly, told jurors that the smoking gun email was banter, just a joke, exchanged as part of a casual conversation with Wildstein. The mother of four going through a divorce at the time of the email was juggling lower-level duties -- ordering food for events and scheduling meetings at the governor’s mansion. “The idea that Bridget Kelly is directing the affairs of the state of New Jersey, ordering the shutdown of the George Washington Bridge...it’s almost absurd,” Critchley said. He argued that Kelly was a “scapegoat,” blamed by the governor’s lawyers for the lane closures to protect Christie’s nascent presidential campaign. “They wanted to throw her under the presidential bus.”

  3. Bridgegate felon David Wildstein was Christie's master of political dark arts. According to Baroni’s defense attorney, Christie referred to Wildstein as his “fixer.” The governor used to joke that Wildstein was his Mr. Wolf from the movie Pulp Fiction, the Harvey Keitel character who cleans up the bodies. Christie has said he barely met with Wildstein while he was governor, but in court, defense attorneys said the evidence will show Christie kept close tabs on Wildstein.

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Bridgegate Trial Primer: What Did Chris Christie Know — and When Did He Know It?
Matt Katz | September 13, 2016

For the last three years, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has maintained that a week's worth of lane closures and traffic jams at the foot of the George Washington Bridge were the result of rogue employees who lied to him. 

But the Bridgegate trial, in which former Christie associates Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni face nine felony counts, may reveal more about what people high up in the administration knew about the scheme—and what they may have done to cover it up.

Christie himself communicated about the lane closures several times during the 121 days between the first morning in which lanes were closed and the day when a smoking gun email revealed a retaliatory political plot. We know the details about some of Christie's conversations, but a trial could reveal far more. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have evidence that has been kept under seal. 

Follow this link to see a timeline of what we know so far about when the governor dealt with the Bridgegate matter during these 121 days.

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Armed Men Once Patrolled the Polls. Will They Reappear in November?
Matt Katz | September 1, 2016

November 7, 1981, CBS News: "There's a new complication tonight in the still unsettled race for governor of New Jersey...The Democratic National Committee today charged that a group calling itself the National Ballot Security Task Force is a front for the Republican National Committee."

In the 1981 election for governor of New Jersey, the Republican National Committee spent $75,000 to ostensibly prevent voter fraud by dispatching teams of off-duty police and sheriff's officers to voting precincts in black, Hispanic and Democratic neighborhoods. The cops, some in uniform, wore arm bands identifying themselves as part of a group called the National Ballot Security Task Force. They had weapons and two-way radios, which provided a governmental veneer. And they hung up posters that read: "WARNING: This area is being patrolled by the National Ballot Security Task Force. It is a crime to falsify a ballot or to violate election laws."

Citizens with outstanding warrants, owed child support payments or even unpaid traffic tickets worried that voting would get them in trouble. Word spread from Newark to Vineland, and untold numbers of voters stayed far away from the polls. For some of those who did show up, their eligibility was challenged as they sought to enter the voting booths.

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Governor Christie Might be Trump's Fair-Weather Friend
Matt Katz | August 18, 2016

New Jersey auditors and lawyers had been fighting for several years to collect overdue taxes owed by Donald Trump's casinos by the time Chris Christie took office.

Including interest, the sum had ballooned to $30 million. But by December 2011, one year into Christie's administration, the state agreed to accept just $5 million of the amount of tax-debt owed. Coincidence? Read more |

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