Although Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the FBI, wasn’t the most high-profile Bridgegate lawyer, he emerged as a public figure just after the public learned that a key piece of possible evidence — Gov. Chris Christie’s personal cellphone — would be forever kept from public view.
Last summer, after a month of Christie telling reporters he didn’t know where the phone was, the governor’s spokesman revealed that the phone was in Wray’s possession.
And then Wray, who went to work on Christie’s behalf at about the time FBI agents interviewed the governor about his Bridgegate role in December 2014, disappeared from public view as well.
The episode might have been small and even meaningless had it not been for the fact that the phone once contained a possibly tantalizing series of text messages between Christie and a top aide that were exchanged the day the extent of the scandal became known. Christie and the aide each deleted the text messages from their cellphones.
A timeline of the testimony, created by WNYC based on recordings of the hearing and tweets sent that day, shows that around the time of the text messages, witnesses delivered some of their sharpest blows to the Christie administration’s version of the Bridgegate events. Christie said he had no recollection of the texts, which he said were of “no moment or no import.”
But keeping the cellphone, text messages, and emails away from prying eyes was a Christie legal strategy.
Those charged in the Bridgegate scandal sought the phone last summer in pre-trial motions. They said it could have provided key evidence showing Christie was involved in the conspiracy. “President Nixon’s tapes were not immune from a subpoena,” wrote Michael Baldassare, the attorney for defendant Bill Baroni, in a court brief. “Neither is Governor Christie’s phone.”
There’s no evidence that Wray did anything more than zealously represent his client in this matter.
Three of Christie’s top aides were convicted of conspiracy, but Christie himself was never charged. Paul Fishman, the former U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, who was subsequently fired by Trump, told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer: “In the criminal law, there are instances in which we are able to prove that certain people are responsible, and we’re not able to go further.”
“We don’t actually say that people are innocent,” Fishman later elaborated.
Wray may have been paid by New Jersey taxpayers for representing Christie, according to the Asbury Park Press. His law firm has been paid $1.57 million by the New Jersey Office of the attorney general for legal services since 2015 — including $845,267 in 2015 for a matter titled “In re: C.C.’’
“When I was at the absolute lowest point of my professional life, he’s who I called,” Christie told reporters on Wednesday, according to Politico New Jersey. “I don’t think you can give a better recommendation than that. It’s not like I don’t know a lot of lawyers. I know every lawyer who’s got any prominence in the federal system.”
Christie declined to say whether he pushed Trump to select Wray.
Before Christie was governor he was U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, and he has said that’s when he first worked with Wray, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department at the time. The case they worked on together yielded a controversial settlement with drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb after the company was charged with securities fraud. The terms of the settlement meant that the company would pay $5 million to Seton Hall Law School to endow a professorship.
Seton Hall is Christie’s alma mater. The Justice Department later changed its rules to restrict such payments.