Gov. Chris Christie’s cell phone, text messages and emails are missing or have been destroyed, Bridgegate defendants allege in a pair of explosive briefs filed late Monday in federal court in New Jersey. They say Christie’s taxpayer-funded lawyers are hiding information about his knowledge of the politically motivated 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.
“President Nixon’s tapes were not immune from a subpoena,” wrote Michael Baldassare, the attorney for defendant Bill Baroni, in his brief. “Neither is Governor Christie’s phone.”
The defense lawyers appear set for the long haul, as Judge Susan Wigenton on Tuesday rejected their motion to dismiss the case, affirming prosecutors have the basis to move forward on their seven count indictment.
The briefs demanding new records come as Christie is emerging as one of the closest advisers to presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, and a frequently-mentioned possible candidate for vice president.
Among the allegations made by the defendants:
The cell phone used by Christie during the time of the lane closures is missing. Both Christie and federal prosecutors have said they don’t know where it is, and Christie’s legal team from the Gibson Dunn law firm hasn’t said if it still exists.
Gibson Dunn, which billed taxpayers $10 million as of last August, produced a report on Bridgegate that exonerated Christie. But the firm never investigated the contents of 12 deleted text messages that were sent to and from the governor on a key day of legislative testimony during the Legislature’s initial investigation.
Although Christie’s lawyers cited defendant Bridget Anne Kelly’s deletion of text messages as “evidence of guilt,” Christie also used his personal email and also deleted text messages. This “apparent blind spot for damaging information concerning Governor Christie and his senior staff (except, of course, Ms. Kelly) is hardly surprising because holding others to the same standard as Ms. Kelly would have been disastrous to [Gibson Dunn’s] propaganda campaign,” wrote Michael Critchley, Kelly’s attorney.
As part of the court proceedings Christie’s legal team failed to turn over emails from his former campaign manager and deputy chief of staff, Bill Stepien, that describe, in detail, the courting of Democratic mayors for endorsements and the use of a taxpayer-funded office, the Intergovernmental Affairs Unit, to do that courting. The defense only found the emails through other sources. This is considered important evidence because it was the refusal by the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee to endorse Christie’s reelection that motivated the lane closures at the heart of the scandal.
In those emails to Christie newly released by the defendants’ attorneys, Stepien informs Christie that the Intergovernmental Affairs Unit had secured an endorsement for Christie’s reelection from the mayor of Belleville. Stepien writes that the unit “has already put the mayor of Belleville in the end zone.” Stepien apparently was running the unit at the time as a government employee, which directly contradicts Gibson Dunn’s assertion that any inappropriate political activity within the governor’s office happened after Stepien left and joined the reelection campaign. It also indicates for the first time that the governor was told that taxpayer-funded politics were happening in his office. Christie’s spokespeople did not return an email Tuesday with questions from WNYC.
Gibson Dunn also didn’t provide the defense emails from Christie to David Samson, the former chief of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that were sent on a day of intense communication in December 2013. The communication came just as Samson’s underling, David Wildstein, was subpoenaed by the Legislature. That day Christie also spoke with Stepien and his top political strategist, Mike DuHaime, both of whom were concurrently in contact with Wildstein. Wildstein later pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts for his Bridgegate role.
Christie’s legal team is demonstrably not independent, the briefs say. Helping to lead the team hired by Christie was Christie’s close friend, Deborah Wong Yang, who on one day billed taxpayers for investigating Christie, then proceeded to raise funds for his presidential bid. Yang raised money for Christie in Los Angeles, attended his presidential primary night party in New Hampshire and is still retained by the governor’s office.
Prosecutors have a list of people who knew about the conspiracy, but are not considered co-conspirators. Still, the defense lawyers said, since those people knew about the conspiracy they also therefore “allegedly approved of” it — which could be “official misconduct,” a felony.
Casting suspicion on Christie and his top officials is apparently a key part of the defense strategy of lawyers for Kelly and Baroni. The trial is set for September. As Critchley wrote in his brief: “…the documents will show that Ms. Kelly’s alleged conduct was not aberrational or outside the scope of her employment.”