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Christie's Hiring of FBI Nominee as Bridgegate Attorney Raises Questions

Wray represented Christie for 11 months before signing mandatory retainer agreement

Credit: New Jersey Attorney General's Office
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President Trump's nominee for FBI director, Christopher Wray, represented Gov. Chris Christie as his personal, publicly funded Bridgegate attorney for 11 months before signing a mandatory retainer agreement, according to new documents provided to WNYC through a public records request.

Wray began working for Christie as his personal, publicly funded attorney, according to bills submitted to the state, in September 2014. But it wasn't until August 2015, 11 months later, that Wray and Christie formally agreed to the arrangement.

Several lawyers who work with the government said the extended delay was extraordinarily unusual, possibly unethical, and could indicate that Christie, who was preparing to run for president at the time, was keeping it hidden from the public that he had a taxpayer-funded criminal attorney. Indeed it wasn't until the summer of 2016 that it was revealed that Wray was holding onto a piece of potential evidence — one of Christie's cell phones that his former aides, charged in the Bridgegate affair, unsuccessfully sought to subpoena.

Wray and his colleagues would ultimately bill taxpayers more than $2 million in fees and expenses, including meals, hotel rooms, cab fare, and flights. They continued working — and being paid — even after the Bridgegate trial ended and those convicted were sentenced to prison. It is unclear what work was done, since the governor was neither charged nor called to testify. 

Shortly thereafter Christie recommended Wray to his friend, President Trump, for the job of FBI director.

Emails and legal bills obtained through a public records request show that Wray first started billing the New Jersey treasury for representing Christie on September 25, 2014, nine months after the federal Bridgegate investigation began. Wray and his associates got to work immediately, billing the state daily, including weekends, on all but three days through Christmas 2014.

The following March, Wray reviewed a draft retention agreement for his role as outside counsel, emails show. Over the course of the next few months an employee from Wray's firm, King & Spalding, had questions about the state rules restricting the hiring of political donors as government contractors. Wray was not a political contributor in New Jersey, according to state records.

The following August 5, 2015, documents were finally exchanged to affirm the deal. A rate of $340 an hour for Wray and his colleagues was agreed upon. Christie himself signed a document designating King & Spalding as special counsel. This was 11 months after work had actually begun.

"Eleven months is a little on the long side — and in the very least, it's kind of sloppy," said Jim Eisenhower, a Philadelphia attorney and former federal prosecutor who has previously been retained by the governor's office in Pennsylvania. He said some lag time is expected due to bureaucracy, or because attorneys may be needed immediately before paperwork can be signed. But in 30 years of practicing law he said he had never heard of such a significant length of time before the signing of a retention agreement.

American Bar Association guidelines on client-lawyer relationships and New Jersey Supreme Court rules say that the terms of an attorney's retention should be communicated in writing "before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation." 

WNYC sought an explanation from a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Porrino, the Christie appointee in charge of retaining outside attorneys for employees, nearly two weeks ago. Last week she left a voicemail requesting a call back and saying she could offer little explanation. But she did not return two subsequent messages.

Christie's spokesman, Brian Murray, also did not return an email for comment.

Wray's nomination as FBI director has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. He awaits conformation from the full Senate.

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