Tag Archive: Kevin O’Dowd

For Christie, Bridgegate is not behind him

Gov. Christie last evening held a New Hampshire “Town Hall” at Fury’s Publick House which lived up to it’s name when Eileen Sahagian, a  former NJ resident, exclaimed to him, “When I heard about the Bridge Scandal, I was beyond horrified. It reminds me of feudal times … when the king would say, ‘Who cares about the peasants?'” … She was “worried about having a president who has people around him who think that’s OK.” Christie sidestepped the concern by saying “I played no role in the lane closure incident. If they could have gotten something on me, I suspect they would have.”

The question was not whether he played a role but about those around him. Christie has been trying to put the issue behind him. He said, “I am going to stop apologizing for it.” However, he will have difficulty achieving that goal. Investigations continue. The lives of people trail him – those who appeared recently in federal court and those who wittingly or unwittingly were involved.

So far there are only 3 federal indictments. There remains a substantial likelihood that Christie’s close confidante David Samson who once ruled questionably over the NY NJ Port Authority will be indicted. The PA itself has received subpoenas from  the NJ U. S. Attorney, County of NY District Attorney, Securities and Exchange Commission, NJ Select Committee on Investigations (NJSCI) and NJ State Ethics Commission (NJSEC). The NJSCI should want to delve further into whether state laws were broken and seek remedies. Although the NJ Acting Attorney General and NJSEC operate under the authority of the governor, they should also investigate and prosecute where necessary. Also there are civil suits.

For other individuals involved who may be “co-conspirators” go below the fold.


Kevin O’Dowd and More: “Twisting Slowly in the Wind”

Gov. Chris Christie on December 2, 2013, said he was nominating his chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd to be New Jersey’s attorney general. As recently as June 29, Matt Arco in the Star Ledger referred to Regina Egea as “currently director of Christie’s Authorities Unit and his incoming chief of staff.” Nonetheless, the Office of Legislative services confirmed today that seven months after Christie’s “nomination,” he has yet to submit a Nomination Letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although the Legislature has a light working schedule now in the summer, the Judiciary Committee does plan a meeting on July 10 and could arrange a meeting later, but it needs a Nomination Letter first. O’Dowd, has been left twisting.

O’Dowd was Christie’s Chief of Staff before, during and after Bridgegate (as well as Bridget Kelly’s boss), and he remains Chief of Staff, but only possibly a nominee for the AG’s position. O’Dowd testified before the Bridgegate investigative committee as one who saw no evil, heard no evil and investigated no evil. If such is the case he did a poor job as the “eyes and ears” of the governor and may not be in Christie’s good graces. It is also possible that O’Dowd did see and hear more than he revealed at the hearing. Either way O’Dowd remains suspect of being incompetent or not forthcoming, so the hold on nominating him is not surprising.

Regardless of the reason, O’Dowd is just one example of the after-effects of Bridgegate and the problems besetting Christie’s administration. It does not seem to bother Christie who travels extensively for the RGA, stops by to dance with Jimmy Fallon, and is spending time today at the beach extolling his efforts at Sandy recovery – an effort more marred than marvelous. Even Christie’s budget is an attempt to put off to tomorrow what could be done today. In the meantime O’Dowd and serious state business are left twisting in the wind. And we are all the worse for it.

Kevin O’Dowd: “The Good Soldier”

The title to Ford Madox Ford’s novel, The Good Soldier, was meant sarcastically. The narrator is unreliable because what he says early on later proves inaccurate. As the story progresses the truth is revealed in non-chronological order. The tale ends badly.

Yesterday Kevin O’Dowd, Christie’s Chief of Staff and choice for Attorney General, proved to his leader to be a good soldier –  to a fault. He uttered not a disparaging remark about the governor. If we can take him at his word he followed Christie’s orders in questioning Bridget Kelly, knew very little about was going on, and in the midst of the tumult of Bridgegate this former federal prosecutor displayed little curiosity nor investigative zeal. O’Dowd parsed his words carefully in his introductory remarks, “I had no prior knowledge of, or played a role in, the decision to close the lanes at the bridge last September.” What’s left unsaid is his role while the lanes were closed and afterward.

Christie’s AG’s: Too Many, Too Political and Unelected

Update 10:45am: The Legislature’s Bridgegate Committee session has started, Kevin O’Dowd presented a brief opening statement, and is now being questioned.

The importance of the N. J. Attorney General’s position is signaled in the NJ constitution as it is mentioned four times. One particular clause prevents the AG (and LG) from being summarily fired by stating the AG begins a term of office that lasts as long as the governor’s term of office. Christie, however, views the AG through his own lens. The governor now wants to appoint his fourth AG, Kevin O’Dowd, in about as many years. They all have worked for him previously in the U. S. Attorney’s office and two of them in his Executive Office. He provides them “full treatment” service which includes plum jobs afterward. It is no surprise they are attentive to his wishes. Christie’s Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd testifies this morning at about 10:30am before the legislature’s Bridgegate Committee. Live coverage here.

There currently is a bill in the Assembly (ACR134) and the Senate (SCR71) which proposes a constitutional amendment to provide for an elected Attorney General – an idea worth considering as only five states grant the governor the power to select the AG. Because of the “full treatment” his AG’s receive it is no surprise that this office continued fighting in court to prevent same-sex marriage, defended Sandy practices, ignored Bridgegate, and used “gun-buybacks” as its main response to a call for new gun legislation. Our powerful governor also appoints prosecutors, judges, top public defenders and the head of the State police, which seems eerily similar to a “Police State” – all under the governor’s direction. All political and none elected.  

NJ’s Whodunit Procedural: Part IV

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

This commonly quoted line from Walter Scott could serve as the epigram on a front page of this whodunit tale. Through Part IV of our series we have written about 11 key characters caught up in the web of Bridgegate. The biggest, of course, is Gov. Christie whose reputation has been severely damaged but whose involvement and ultimate fate remain unclear. Five high-ranking characters have resigned or been fired – Wildstein, Kelly, Stepien, Baroni, and Samson. There are other individuals lurking in the background who may take on importance.

In this installment, Part IV, below the fold we look at the “Press Spokesman from Hell,” the “Holder of the Keys,” and of course no crime procedural would omit the “bumbling or duplicitous police officers.”  

New Jersey’s Whodunit Crime Procedural

The investigation of Bridgegate/Hoboken/Port Authority/Christie’s Executive Office has all the elements of a great mystery story, except it’s not fiction. It fits into the genre of procedural crime where it is believed there might be criminal activity which could include corruption at the top. The FBI and prosecutors use subpoenas, issue search warrants, interrogate witnesses, gather evidence, invoke a grand jury, grant immunity to a few, and then indict and take the case to court. In some stories the suspect at the very top although tarnished is not indicted. There is satisfaction when most guilty parties are meted out punishment, and there is a lingering suspicion that anyone who escaped justice will later suffer consequences.

Recent news tells us that this procedural is well underway in New Jersey. ABC News reported that Christie Spokesperson Michael Drewniak, whose lawyer says he is not a target, answered questions before the Newark Grand jury. Another source, Main Justice, says that Christie Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, was “camped at the U. S. Attorney’s office” last week. Also Main Justice states, “Charles McKenna, Chief Counsel to Christie, met secretly in mid-January with investigators working for U. S. Attorney Fishman.” Other news sources have reported that the FBI have questioned people connected with Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly and former Campaign Manager Bill Stepien.

Ohers entwined in this mystery story include Christie Port Authority appointees David Samson (former Chair), Bill Baroni (former Deputy Director) and Philip Kwon (P. A. Legal Department and former Christie nominee to the Supreme Court), and Christie Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd.

Although it is not yet clear what exactly the crimes may be, this tale has a large cast of interesting and diverse characters – some who definitely were involved in the lane closings and others who may have known early about it, masterminded it or covered it up. The story is complex as it may also involve extortion in Hoboken, illegal conflicts of interest on the Port Authority Board, and unlawful use of federal Sandy funds.  

In forthcoming posts there will be an examination of the individual cast members and what we have learned about them from the Legislative Select Committee documents, the Mastro Report and other sources. Some with significant information can be granted immunity from the U. S. Attorney to testify. The legislative committee is also in a position to develop new information. It becomes increasingly likely that this procedural will continue to unfold, and lead us closer to “who done it” and why. At the conclusion this story might well become a book – a fascinating and tawdry tale.  

What’s Happening Today Mon. 01/27/2014

Around and around it goes, and where it will stop nobody knows. In roulette the ball will eventually fall into one of 38 pockets. In Bridgegate and Hoboken Hold Up, there may be more possibilitiies. Some people probably have a better idea than others as to where the ball will stop. Here are some of them:  

Gov. Christie spent two hours before the press protesting his innocence, and since then has uttered not a word on Bridgegate. However, he would have to be a dunce if he hasn’t figured out by now most of what happened and where it’s likely to end. Nor has he spoken out on Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim, but he should be able to remember whether he asked Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to pressure the mayor. Zimmer was quite convincing in what she alleged.

David Wildstein, the bad boy from Christie’s school years, ordered the Fort Lee lanes closed, abruptly resigned from the Port Authority, provided  incriminating documents under subpoena, and took the 5th amendment before a legislative committee. Now he appears willing to tell more if he is granted immunity. He does know more and could probably point the finger at others and explain why this dumb plan was implemented.

Bridget Anne Kelly while Deputy Chief of Staff issued the famous memo to Wildstein (“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”) which set the wheels in motion. For that she was immediately fired when Christie says he read the emails. If she was acting on orders from someone else she might be particularly unhappy, unwilling to take all the blame and eager to reveal who told her to initiate the plan and why. The Governor’s office says her communications are subject to Executive privilege, but she used her personal e-mail in some cases and may provide some interesting reading.

Bill Baroni was once a well-regarded Republican legislator who went against Christie’s wishes and voted in a Senate committee for marriage equality during an earlier ill-fated effort. As the top Christie appointee to the Port Authority he appeared mean and foolish, maligning the late Sen. Lautenberg, trying to hold information back from the public, and insisting that the lanes were closed for a traffic study. He was there (until he abruptly resigned) and has a tale to tell.

Former Campaign Manager Bill Stepien, Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd, and Chief Counsel Charles McKenna are all under subpoena, were a pay grade above Kelly, only one degree away from Christie, and in many cases  giving out orders on behalf of the governor.

Go below the fold for others who might know better where the ball will stop, and for today’s scheduled activities which include the governor out and about but not willing to meet the press.  

What’s Happening Today Fri. 01/17/2014

Chris Christie makes his first out-of-state political trip of the year to Florida to hold fundraisers in Naples this evening and Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach on Saturday to benefit the RGA and Gov. Rick Scott. He will spend Sunday in Palm Beach with wealthy donors at Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone’s home. Capitol Soup (“Florida news straight from the Source”) reported yesterday: “The Christie and Scott teams aren’t exactly forthcoming these days. What we do know is there are a series of closed-press fundraisers and no public events, which means either Chris Christie doesn’t want to answer questions about his scandal or Rick Scott just doesn’t want to be seen in public with Christie. We don’t blame either of them.” Not an auspicious start for our governor who is also Chairman this year of the Republican Governors Association.

The Democratic National Committee says, “Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (a U. S. Representative for FL 23) and Florida Democratic Party Officials will hold press events in Orlando on Saturday morning and in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday afternoon to respond to Governor Christie’s Florida trip and to discuss Rick Scott’s failed record.”

Subpoenas raining down on current and former Executive Office officials: Among those individuals now (or soon to be) learning they must supply documents to Assembly or Senate Committees are the Chief of Staff (Kevin O’Dowd), Chief Counsel (Charles McKenna), Director of Authorities Unit (Regina Egea), Deputy chief of Staff (Maria Comella), a recently fired Deputy Chief of Staff (Bridget Anne Kelly), and a prior Deputy Chief of Staff (Bill Stepien who left to become Christie’s Campaign Manager and is now jobless). Further down the chain is the Governor’s spokesperson Michael Drewniak, and off the chain are the Port Authority Chairman (David Samson) and a P. A. board member (Pat Schuber).

There are even more subpoenas to be issued that we don’t know about yet. Subpoenas are not synonymous with guilt but they sure are ominous. Here is Christie’s current list of Senior Staff members which seems to undergo continuous revision. Not in my memory has there been a scandal reaching so many members of a Governor’s inner circle, with four key Christie associates already jobless. Two of them are requesting the P. A. to bear their legal expenses.

The newest member of Team Christie is lawyer Randy Mastro, likened to a “legal alligator.” The Asbury Park Press adds more detail to his profile: “Mastro as Deputy Mayor of New York wielded a baseball bat during meetings to emphasize his points. Referring to his “we-hit-them-they-hit-us” approach, the Daily News called Mastro “the only trigger man in town who can make Giuliani look like Mr. Nice Guy.” Mastro will play a key role in deciding which inquiries are “appropopriate” and try to ignore or redact what is “inappropriate.” He and his law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutch will use crisis management techniques of damage control and containment. Not an easy job.

Port Authority answers Rockefeller committee questions but breaks no new ground. The P. A. met its deadline to respond to U. S. Sen. Rockefeller’s questions regarding Bridgegate but it relied largely on information from public testimony. It re-explained what its normal procedures are and stated the procedures were not followed. It refused to speculate “on the motivations taken behind actions at GWB” and said the issue is still under investigation. Sen Rockefeller concluded, “The Port Authority’s response provides zero evidence that the purpose of these closures was to conduct a legitimate traffic study.”  

What’s Happening Today Fri. 01/10/2014

Yesterday was a sad moment for New Jerseyans when the news of pettiness and vindictiveness of highly placed State political operatives rippled throughout the nation. BridgeGate had already resulted in two political appointees having to leave their positions at the Port Authority. With the release of inflammatory emails two more individuals who worked closely with Gov. Christie found themselves jobless. Christie, who on frequent occasions publicly insulted and belittled others, said, “the conduct in those emails is unacceptable to me.” He was referring to staff members who insulted and belittled residents of Fort Lee and its Mayor.

It was unpleasant yesterday watching David Wildstein, a political appointee of Christie to the Port Authority, repeatedly asserting his right to the fifth amendment. He carried out the lane closures, but now having lost his job and facing potential criminal charges, he refused to divulge what he knew about the matter. The Assembly Committee, to its credit, in a series of votes acted in a bipartisan manner culminating in Wildstein being declared in contempt of the Legislature and subject to a misdemeanor charge.

The firing yesterday of Christie’s Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who told David Wildstein via email to commence traffic problems in Fort Lee, was the first clear indication that the matter was orchestrated within the Executive Office. Many do not believe, however, that she would have initiated the action without higher authorization. She reported directly to Kevin O’Toole O’Dowd, Christie’s Chief of Staff. As the emails suggested, the Fort Lee lane closures were political retribution and its mayor was number two on some type of “Hit” list. The person running Christie’s campaign re-election was Bill Stepien whom Christie yesterday removed from consideration for key state and national jobs.

Christie is known to tightly control State activities within the Executive Office. In his press conference yesterday, filled with self-referential comments, he apologized and said he was “shocked, ” and “had no knowledge of the operation.” In typical obfuscatory language he admitted “mistakes were made.” With four people tied to his administration already out of their jobs, questions remain: are there not others who also made mistakes and who are they? Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski has promised to issue additional appearance subpoenas possibly starting with Deputy Chief of Staff Kelly. Other investigations have also been launched.

Today we hear that thousands of additional emails are expected to be released this morning. The Governor who said he would collaborate with the investigations could expedite a swift conclusion by asking his key staff to testify openly. Sadly that is unlikely to happen so BridgeGate will end up being a long drawn out tawdry affair.

Pinelands Commission: 9:30am, expected to vote on this resolution: “Authorizing the Executive Director to Enter into a Memorandum of Agreement Between the New Jersey Pinelands Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities Regarding Construction of Approximately 15 miles of a 22-Mile, 24-Inch Natural Gas Pipeline in the State Designated Pinelands Area. The meeting is in New Lisbon.”No. No. No.

What’s Happening Today Thu. 01/09/2014

Throughout the course of BridgeGate there have been denials that the lane closings were orchestrated within the Executive Office and that political retribution was the motivation for closing the lanes. With yesterday’s published e-mails the cover up has unraveled. We now know why it was done. We still must learn the “who” – the co-conspirators in this plot.

Yesterday we found out that Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly gave David Wildstein the go-ahead: “Time for some traffic problem in Fort Lee,” to which Wildstein responded “Got it.” The message would have been without context if there had not been prior discussion about closing the lanes. A little over two weeks later lanes were closed.  

Does anyone believe that Kelly would issue such a directive, knowing there would be traffic chaos, without discussing the matter with her boss? If and when she testifies at a hearing she should be grilled on who else knew about the plan and particularly what role her boss Kevin O’Dowd, Chief of Staff, played in the matter. Didn’t he know about it and even give her the order? He had followed Christie from the U.S. Attorney’s office to the State House. He was now the gatekeeper, the giver of orders, conduit and  confidante, carrying out instructions of his boss, being sure that they were followed, and keeping his boss up to date.

More recently Christie nominated Kevin O’Dowd to be our Attorney General – a position ill-suited for him if he was involved in ordering or covering up the matter. At an Assembly Hearing or a Senatorial confirmation hearing (if he should get that far) he has to be asked what he knew, when he knew it, and whether he issued the go-ahead to his Deputy. Even if one believes O’Dowd knew nothing initially about the plan, once the chaos ensued and the press and legislators demanded answers, the first person he would want to query would be his Deputy Director Kelly who was responsible for liaison with the Port Authority. Thus he should have found out the truth of the matter by mid-September.

Given O’Dowd’s close relationship with the Governor, does anyone believe that he would not have discussed the matter with the Governor? Received his OK to proceed? Or later informed him that Kelly told Wildstein to go ahead? From September to January all we heard were denials. It is now apparent that at different points in time P. A. Board Chair and Christie confidante David Samson knew what was going on, as did Bill Stepien, Christie’s Campaign Manager. (Read Samson’s denial of any knowledge here, which seems at odds with the published emails.)  Yesterday Christie also denied any knowledge.

Andrea Bernstein at WNYC reported in December “There was a lot of whispering during Christie’s re-election campaign that he had a ‘naughty and nice’ list, but no one had been able to prove it.” We don’t know who was on the “nice” part but from yesterday’s emails we learned that on the “bad” part Jersey City Mayor Steven Fullop was number 1 and Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was number 2. Thus, the bridge closing as political retribution seems so much clearer. The list was out there and Christie operatives knew who was on it and felt empowered to take action.

Christie said yesterday “Not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” He goes on to say, “People will be held responsible for their actions.”  So it’s not just “a member of my staff” but its “people” who will be held responsible. The net of co-conspirators in the lane closing and the cover up is growing larger. There are doubts that this conduct was made without his knowledge and he will have a tough time extricating himself from that net.

Stay tuned for Gov. Christie’s 11:00am press conference today and the Assembly hearing scheduled to start at Noon, which will be televised on NJTV and can be heard here.