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Thursday, July 13, 2017

In Bridgegate scandal, ex-crime buster Christie keeps getting away with murder

No U.S. president in modern American history has been lampooned as savagely as President Trump has -- this time for his adoration of Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator and Syrian war criminal. This cartoon is from Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
"Prez Putin" is title of this cartoon from Bill Day of PoliticalCartoons.com.

 -- HACKENSACK, N.J.

By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The Record and other New Jersey newspapers never tired of praising Chris Christie's record of convictions in public corruption cases when he was U.S. attorney from January 2002 to December 2008.

In fact, that record helped the anti-tax conservative get elected governor in 2009, and despite the Bridgegate scandal in 2013, Christie has somehow managed to escape the fate of those 130 public officials -- both Democrat and Republican -- who were convicted or pleaded guilty.

Now, as the Woodland Park daily reports on Page 1 today, the chief prosecution witness at last fall's Bridgegate trial was placed on three years of probation.

In return for his "truthful" testimony, former Port Authority executive David Wildstein also was ordered to serve 500 hours of community service, and pay $24,000 in fines and restitution for devising the September 2013 political-revenge plot at the George Washington Bridge.

He pleaded guilty to triggering the four-day traffic jam after Christie's deputy chief of staff sent him an email:

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

Public says 'guilty'

In the court of public opinion, Christie was convicted of inspiring the plot against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, who refused to endorse the governor's reelection in 2013.

But Christie was never charged or required to testify under oath in court, and we don't know whether he is on the still-secret list of unindicted co-conspirators.

The scandal did doom his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. 

Still, Christie has since been appointed by President Trump to head a commission on the abuse of painkillers and an epidemic of overdose deaths.

And Trump has nominated Christie pal Christopher Wray to succeed James Comey, the FBI director the president fired in a bid to derail the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Wray was Christie's personal attorney in 2014, when the governor met secretly with the FBI about the bridge plot.

New Jersey taxpayers have forked over $2.1 million in fees to Wray's law firm in Atlanta for that representation.


Bridget Anne Kelly, left, and Bill Baroni were found guilty by a federal jury.


Truthful testimony

At the Bridgegate trial, Wildstein testified his only job at the Port Authority was to advance the interests of Christie, and that the governor knew of the lane closures and their purpose as they were happening.

In court on Wednesday, Wildstein said he and two other Christie ex-aides convicted in the plot had "put our faith and trust in a man [Christie] that neither earned it nor deserved it." 

A federal jury found former Port Authority official Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, guilty of conspiracy and other charges, but they are free while they appeal their prison sentences of 2 years and 18 months, respectively.

Both U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton and federal prosecutors, who recommended a non-custodial sentence for their star witness, said Wildstein testified truthfully at the trial.

Outside the courthouse, acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick went further:

"We would not have called Mr. Wildstein or any other witness unless we were completely confident that the witnesses' testimony was truthful, accurate and corroborated by other evidence" (6A).

'Just not right'

An editorial in The Record says, "And for all his denials and lack of criminal charges, the public does not know what Christie knew and when" he knew it (16A).

Still, the paper's Editorial Board is more upset with Wildstein than it is with Christie, the worst governor in state history.

Remember, The Record is the only major daily in the state that didn't call for the GOP bully's resignation after he endorsed Trump for president in February 2016.

"Wildstein shouldn't be allowed to walk away," the Editorial Board pouts. "It's just not right."


New York's Daily News called Governor Christie a liar for his repeated claims of innocence in the September 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Taxpayers laid out more than $10 million for a so-called internal investigation by Christie's own $650-an-hour lawyer, who cleared the governor of wrongdoing, but most New Jersey newspapers put no credibility it it, and labeled the report a whitewash. One exception was The Record. This cartoon is by Clay Bennett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.