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

With Stepien yesterday signaling his intention to fight the subpoenas, the big prize for investigators is clearly Kelly, a divorced mother with four school-age children who, like Wildstein, could potentially be facing up to three to 10 years in prison on official misconduct charges related to Bridgegate.

Kelly’s original lawyer was Walter Timpone, whom Christie had appointed as vice-chairman of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, but she is now represented by Michael Critchley, who has no ties to the Christie administration.

As Christie’s deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, it was Kelly who not only sent the incriminating Bridgegate email, but was at the center of the political operation being run out of the governor’s office during his reelection campaign in close cooperation with her predecessor, Bill Stepien, who left Kelly in charge when he moved over as campaign manager for Christie’s 2013 race.

It was Kelly who set up a special series of meetings with Cabinet-level officials for Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop after his election, then had them cancelled when Fulop refused to endorse Christie. It was Kelly who was the lead contact in the governor’s office for the list of Democratic mayors that the campaign was targeting for endorsements to “run up the score,” as Christie put it, and prove his electability for the 2016 presidential election.

Three Mayors

One of those mayors the campaign contacted was Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble, whose town got a senior citizen center paid for out of Sandy reconstruction funds even though it suffered little damage from the storm. A second was Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough, whose town got a new rail station paid for by the Port Authority. And, of course, a third was Fort Lee’s Mark Sokolich, whose refusal to endorse Christie is considered the most likely reason for the GWB lane closures.

Sokolich sent his now-famous email asking if he was being “punished” to Kelly and Stepien on September 12, the fourth day of the lane closures -- a sign that Sokolich believed the two were working hand in hand in directing the governor’s political machinery and that he saw no distinction or dividing line between the governor’s office and the governor’s reelection campaign.

In his marathon 108-minute press conference in his Statehouse outer office on January 9, Christie said he was “blindsided” by the disclosure that Kelly had emailed Wildstein that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” and insisted that “this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” Christie denounced Kelly, whose office door just 40 feet from his podium was now blocked by a double row of TV cameras, as “stupid” and “deceitful,” saying he fired her not because she ordered the lane closures, but because she “lied to me.”

The governor was just as disparaging of Wildstein.

For Wildstein, a self-professed political history junkie with a keen sense of the parallels between Bridgegate and Watergate, Lesniak’s open discussion yesterday of whether Christie might face impeachment had to be a welcome development in his effort to push for immunity

When Wildstein resigned in early December, it looked as if he might be willing to fall on his sword for his hero Christie -- the star catcher whose hitting exploits he recorded as statistician for the Livingston High School baseball team, the publicity-seeking U.S. Attorney whose high-profile arrests of corrupt politicians he broke in advance from his anonymous perch as PolitickerNJ’s “Wally Edge,” and the governor who gave a political aspirant who never rose higher than mayor of his hometown the opportunity to play in the big time at a bistate agency with a multibillion-dollar budget.

Wrong End of the Sword

But that was before Christie twisted the sword deep into Wildstein’s back during his January 9 press conference, putting Wildstein on the receiving end of the type of biting personal attacks that Christie’s well-oiled communications office was quick to post to YouTube when the targets were teachers, reporters, and former Navy SEALs.

While Christie continued to stand up for the integrity of Baroni, the former state senator who played Gov. Jon Corzine in debate prep during his first campaign, he seemed to go out of his way to castigate and belittle Wildstein – a decision that may have made it easier for Wildstein to levy the accusations he did yesterday.

“Let me just clear something up, okay, about my ‘childhood friend’ David Wildstein,” Christie said disparagingly. “It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He's a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer, and so was I. Really, after that time, I completely lost touch with David. We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time,” he said of the team statistician who was sitting down the bench from him during baseball games, according to their baseball coach.

Nothing, of course, about how Wildstein promoted Christie’s political career from behind the scenes at PolitickerNJ.com. Then the governor put in a further dig at how inconsequential Wildstein was as director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority
“I have had no contact with David Wildstein in a long time, a long time, well before the election,” Christie insisted. “You know, I could probably count on one hand the number of conversations I’ve had with David since he worked at the Port Authority. I did not interact with David.”

Except that he did – in fact, the Wall Street Journal obtained photos of Wildstein and Christie talking and laughing animatedly in New York City at the World Trade Center at ceremonies commemorating 9/11 attack this past September. This also happened to be the third day of the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

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