In Tuesday’s debate, Gov. Chris Christie argued that as a Republican from a blue state he’s uniquely qualified to “prosecute the case against Hillary Clinton.” But within hours of uttering those words, lawyers for the two Bridgegate defendants filed papers in federal court that could undermine his effort to make such a case.
Christie’s legal team is inappropriately hiding thousands of documents related to the Bridgegate scandal, the two defense lawyers argued in briefs filed late Tuesday. Among the hidden documents, the lawyers say, are emails to and from the governor’s personal and work email accounts and a calendar entry from the week when an order was delivered to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.
All told, Christie’s taxpayer-funded attorneys at the Gibson Dunn law firm have withheld or redacted 9,428 emails and other documents. The reasons given include “campaign strategy” and “press strategy.”
At least 16 of those emails were sent from top Christie aides to former Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in May to felony corruption charges for the politically-motivated lane closures, and Bill Baroni, the former top Port official who has pleaded not guilty in the case.
This week’s court filings also show that there’s at least one email between Christie and Wildstein from February 2009, when Christie was a private citizen running for governor and Wildstein was an anonymous political blogger known as “Wally Edge.” It is unclear if Christie knew at the time that Wildstein was “Wally Edge.” But in January 2014, when the country learned that the governor’s deputy chief of staff had sent an email to Wildstein saying “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie insisted that he had little contact with Wildstein and even though they had attended high school together, they were not friends. “I completely lost touch with David,” Christie said. The governor said he only resumed contact when Wildstein was hired in 2010 as the $150,000-a-year director of interstate capital projects, but Baroni’s court papers allege Christie and Wildstein communicated through email “for a period of time.”
The court papers also reveal for the first time that Christie testified before a federal grand jury about the Bridgegate matter. A Christie spokesman could not immediately confirm that such testimony took place, or when.
But in some forum with federal investigators, according to Baroni’s court filings, Christie presented an account of cancelled meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop that show Christie in command of his administration’s relationships with local officials. Fulop, a Democrat, did not endorse Christie and subsequently lost access to Port Authority officials. Christie acknowledged approving of that decision, though he said it was done so Christie could maintain relations with Fulop’s rival, Senate President Stephen Sweeney.
Christie’s involvement in the treatment of Fulop is relevant because Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was allegedly retaliated against in the Bridgegate scheme for not endorsing Christie’s reelection. Christie said he was unaware of that scheme.
This week’s filings show that Fulop sent an email to Baroni, asking that his canceled meeting with Port Authority officials be rescheduled. That email is forwarded to Wildstein and then to Bill Stepien, Christie’s campaign manager at the time, who passed it on to the governor himself.
At his long press conference in the aftermath of Bridgegate, in January 2014, Christie said he didn’t recall the cancelled meetings from the prior July: “I don’t know about specific meetings or what’s going on, but certainly, you know, I will look into all those things.”
Michael Critchley, Sr., the lawyer for indicted Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, argued the disclosures made by Christie’s lawyers are “completely inadequate.”
And Christie’s legal team, noted Michael Baldassare, the lawyer for Bill Baroni, “did not produce a single email on behalf of the Governor from a government email address.”
“In other words, either Gibson Dunn concluded that no emails from Governor Christie’s official government email account were responsive to the subpoena (which seems highly unlikely) or Governor Christie did not use a government email account during the relevant time period,” Baldassare wrote.
The revelations come as Christie regularly pokes at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for using a private email account. “The real story is this — I believe in my heart — that Hillary Clinton doesn’t want us to know what she’s doing,” Christie told a New Hampshire town hall over the summer. “She believes we don’t have a right to know. When I’m president of the United States, you have a right to know what your president is doing.”
The documents also contain several other allegations:
*David Wildstein removed Bill Baroni’s hard drive from the Port Authority offices and took it home with him after he was fired in December 2013, though he left his own family photos at his desk.
*Christie’s former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, passed along at least two emails to Christie from Wildstein, one concerning the meetings with Fulop, the other regarding the New Jersey Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association’s decision not to endorse Christie for re-election.
*Christie’s legal team has turned over 1.7 million documents in a form that isn’t searchable. The lawyers estimate it would take three attorneys three years to read all the documents in that form.
*Citing the case’s intense media coverage and potentially tainted jury pool, Baroni wants a federal judge to move the trial to another venue. It’s scheduled to begin in April in Newark.
*Critchley, Kelly’s attorney, alleges that Christie’s lawyers at the Gibson Dunn firm tried to “destroy” notes of interviews their lawyers did with Christie and other administration officials.
*A lawyer for Phil Kwon, a Port Authority lawyer and one-time Christie nominee to the state Supreme Court, has told federal authorities that he has information related to Bridgegate, according to Critchley.
*Wildstein was apparently cooperating with federal authorities early on in the case in 2014, getting interviewed by investigators at least four times.
*Unlike governors in other states, Christie keeps his meeting calendars secret. But Baroni’s attorney revealed a redacted copy of the governor’s calendar from the week in August 2013 when the “time for some traffic problems” email was sent. It shows a meeting with lobbyists Rocco Iossa and also Jeff Michaels, whose brother was a police lieutenant at the Port Authority who allegedly helped Wildstein execute the lane closures. It also shows phone calls with Neil Bush, brother of Jeb and George W. Bush, and Michelle Rhee, the controversial school reform leader.