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Analysis: Wildstein challenges Christie’s honesty in bid for immunity

With Stepien fighting his legislative subpoena, Kelly’s testimony would be the real prize for investigators

christie and wildsteen
Credit: philly.com

For David Wildstein, Gov. Chris Christie’s political enforcer at the Port Authority who ordered the George Washington Bridge lane closures, yesterday’s letter from his lawyer Alan Zegas to Port Authority officials in which Wildstein essentially called Gov. Chris Christie a liar was the logical next step in Wildstein’s open audition to testify before lawmakers and law enforcers as the John Dean of the Bridgegate scandal.

In his latest pitch to federal and state investigators to have Wildstein testify in exchange for immunity, Zegas wrote that “evidence exists . . . tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee.” It was at this hearing that Wildstein repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment. “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”

Wildstein’s charges go straight to the core questions of “what did the governor know, and when did he know it?” and prompted both Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and the Star-Ledger editorial board to suggest that Christie would have to resign or face impeachment if they were proven true.

The direct attack on Christie’s integrity on the weekend New Jersey is hosting the Super Bowl is likely to renew the pressure on the governor to step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. It also is likely to send the popularity ratings of the onetime Republican presidential frontrunner plummeting further in both the state and national polls.

Looming Deadline

The Wildstein allegations come as the governor’s office, his campaign, and 18 current or former Christie administration officials face a Monday deadline to turn over documents, emails, texts, and other information subpoenaed by the Joint Legislative Committee on Investigations. Bill Stepien, Christie’s former campaign manager, yesterday announced that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and a Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure to refuse to cooperate with the committee. Christie administration officials declined to comment yesterday on whether others planned to similarly refuse.

For Christie, who has not held a press conference for 23 days in the face of an ever-growing list of political scandals, it is a public relations nightmare.

Colin Reed, Christie’s press spokesman, yesterday issued a statement that tried to put a positive spin on Wildstein’s charge, asserting that “Mr. Wildstein's lawyer confirms what the Governor has said all along -- he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein's motivations were for closing them to begin with."

“As the Governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The Governor denies Mr. Wildstein's lawyer's other assertions.”

However, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), co-chair of the legislative inquiry, last night characterized Wildstein’s charges as “serious accusations that add to people’s skepticism about what the governor was saying.”

It was Wildstein who produced the August 13 email from Bridget Kelly, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, telling him it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” in response to a December subpoena from Wisniewski’s Assembly Transportation Committee that catapulted Bridgegate into a national scandal. While Wisniewski said he was troubled that Wildstein did not produce whatever evidence he had that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were going on, he said the committee’s first subpoena might not have been specific enough.

“When we were asking for those documents, we had no idea this would lead into the governor’s office,” Wisniewski said on MSNBC last night. “We were looking at the Port Authority. These could be somebody else’s documents that have come into his possession. We need to see what he has and figure out what Mr. Wildstein is saying here. Clearly his attorney has an obligation to be truthful but we do not know all the information he has and may not be asking all the right questions."

“If he’s seeking immunity, he may not tip his hand to everything he has,” Wisniewski added.

While Wildstein is clearly seeking to be the first to get immunity, he can probably only testify about Bridgegate and the other Port Authority scandals, as is the case with his boss, Bill Baroni, whom Christie installed as the Port Authority’s deputy executive director.

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