As with any good whodunit there is often a twist. A judge rules that two defendants who have invoked the federal constitution’s 5th Amendment right against incriminating themselves can not be compelled by an investigative committee to provide documents that might incriminate them. No worries. The tale continues. With an email there is often a copy to another party who is not a target who might produce the damaging document. The investigative committee is and has been receiving documents from numerous sources and is now requesting files from the Mastro Report.
More important, when an individual, such as Bridget Kelly, has put in motion something illegal, she is already subject to being indicted. Her recourse is to blab to the prosecutors to receive immunity. The nasty Mastro Report should provide her added incentive. The legislators retain their role of finding out how and why this happened and then initiating remedial legislation.
Neither Bill Stepien nor Bridget Kelly (whom we wrote about in Part II of this series), who Judge Jacobson absolved from having to incriminate themselves, have escaped the arm of the law. There could be an appeal or revised more narrowly focused subpoenas. While we await their fate, there are other larger than life characters in this whodunit beyond the fold: the “failed general,” the “once fair-haired legislator,” the “Would be Supreme Court Justice member” and “yet another lawyer.” In Part III they are all lawyers who may be in trouble with the law and now have their own lawyers.
Lets first look at Christie appointee Port Authority Chair David Samson who projects himself as the very model of rectitude while his votes on the PA Board reflect conflicts of interest which often enrich his law firm while providing benefits to Governor Christie or to other customers his law firm represents. Standing tall, this “General” (he used to be a NJ Attorney General) has had to bend his head downward as he recently slinked away from his Port Authority chairmanship.
David Wildstein (the “Deep Throat” of Bridgegate who came out early and publicly with incriminating emails) commented in one that “Samson is helping us retaliate,” after Patrick Foye, Cuomo appointee as PA Executive Director, reopened the lanes and questioned the legality of their closing. Samson immediately accused Foye of “stirring up trouble.” Samson remained publicly silent and unperturbed about the lane closing for months until February 19 when he finally stated, “We are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused to our travelers” – a weak apology that ignored the politics and abuse of power. He refused to speak to the Mastro Report investigators which did not stop them from absolving their governor’s favorite General from culpability. Although he may well escape indictment over the lane “realignments,” he is caught in a web of conflicts of interest from which he might not escape an Ethics Commission investigation, lawsuits, or worse. He continues at Wolff-Samson law firm, which is now losing revenue, including contracts from Bergen County.
Next there is Christie appointee P. A. Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, the once fair-haired legislator respected by Republicans and Democrats who arriving at the P. A. quickly lost his charm when he made offensive remarks to the elderly Senator Frank Lautenberg who has since passed away. When Executive Director Foye decided to make it known he had re-open the lanes, Baroni emailed him, “There can be no public discourse.” (Part of a cover up?) Foye responded, “Bill thats precisely the problem: there has been no public discourse on this.” Baroni then went on with remarkable lack of foresight (or integrity) to repeatedly defend the lane closures as a “traffic study” when he testified (fortunately for him not under oath) before the legislative investigation committee. As an attendee pictured with Wildstein and Christie at the 9/11 event he may corroborate the fact that Wildstein mentioned the lane closures to the governor. The Mastro report did not interview Baroni. He was certainly aware of what was going on in Fort Lee, sought to hide it from the public, and misrepresented its purpose. He may be granted partial or full immunity, but he is not out of the woods. In the meantime he has landed a job with the Princeton-based Hill-Wallack law firm as counsel.
As the Wall Street Journal, quoting a source, pointed out, Christie appointee P. A. Deputy General Counsel Phillip Kwon “prepped Baroni (for parts of four days) who then lied that GWB lane closures were for a traffic study during the hearings.” Christie appointed Kwon to this high-level PA position after the Senate refused to confirm Kwon’s nomination as a Supreme Court Justice, partly because of his personal/family finances. The Mastro lawyers did not interview Kwon. In spite of Kwon’s role in promoting a story so discredited he continues at the PA.
In an email to Baroni concerned about his legislative testimony, Wildstein indicated, “Charlie [McKenna] said you did GREAT.” Yet another lawyer intertwined in the Bridgegate scandal, McKenna had left the U.S. Attorney’s office with Christie, and during the lane closures served as the Governor’s Chief Counsel. On Oct 1 Christie asked McKenna to look into the lane closings, but what he revealed to to the governor has not been made public. He may even have found out nothing from the Executive Office members, which reflects poorly on his skills. According to Main Justice McKenna met with the U. S. Attorney’s investigators in mid-January. As a close confidante and legal counsel of Christie, McKenna may know more about Christie’s knowledge and involvement in Bridgegate. He recently escaped the Executive Office fishbowl and was appointed by Christie as NJ Schools Development Authority’s new executive director.
So here we have another rich cast of characters – lawyers acting badly. There are more interesting characters to come in the next installment.