Right before NJ Governor Chris Christie apologized for—and reiterated his innocence in—the Fort Lee-George Washington Bridge gridlock scandal, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman opened an inquiry into the matter.
A spokesperson in Fishman's office told the Star-Ledger that the Port Authority's inspector general "referred the matter to us, and our office is reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated."
During his press conference today, Christie insisted he had no idea that his top aide Bridget Anne Kelly had emailed Port Authority executive David Wildstein, telling him, "Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee." The email was three weeks before a nearly week-long closure of two (of three) lanes to the George Washington Bridge in early September, turning 30 minute commutes into many-hour ordeals.
While Wildstein and his boss, Christie appointee Bill Baroni, claimed there was a traffic study being conducted, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) had suspected the traffic problems were because he refused to endorse Christie's Republican re-election bid. Christie accused NJ Democrats and the press of sensationalizing a traffic study and said his staff had no idea of any scheme to get back at Fort Lee. In documents released yesterday, Christie's campaign manager Bill Stepien refers to Sokolich as an "idiot."
Christie said today, “I have absolutely nothing to hide. My instruction to everybody would be to cooperate and answer questions. We have nothing to hide and this administration has nothing to hide."
The Wall Street Journal reports, "It’s still unclear which federal law might have been broken in this scenario. The federal honest services fraud statute — recently narrowed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — requires evidence of bribes or kickbacks, which don’t appear to be at issue here. Obstruction-of-justice inquiries, however, can often spring from political scandals and cover-ups."
However, the WSJ adds, "State law could prove more useful for prosecutors. In New Jersey, a public servant may be convicted of 'official misconduct' for a breach of a prescribed duty related to the office with the intention of 'injuring or depriving' another person of a benefit. The crime of official misconduct is a second-degree offense that can carry a prison sentence of five to 10 years." Well, right now, Wildstein is pleading the Fifth Amendment during his testimony to the NJ Assembly.