Tag Archive: Charles McKenna

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: “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.

NJ’s Whodunit Procedural: Part III

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.

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 Mon. 01/13/2014

Today Gov. Christie is probably putting the finishing touches (after a massive rewrite?) of tomorrow’s State of the State Address. In the opening comments of last year’s address he said, “Just three months ago, we were proceeding normally with our lives …  Then Sandy hit.” His entire speech was about Sandy, the indomitable spirit of New Jerseyans, what his administration was doing about it, and how he was leading the way.

Tomorrow I doubt he will say, “Just four months ago we were proceeding normally with our lives … Then Bridgegate hit.” It is unlikely his entire speech will be about lane closures and the subsequent cover up. Christie has to be extremely careful about what he says as another 1,000 pages of e-mails will soon be released and Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski has said he is about to release document and appearance subpoenas to former Campaign Manager Bill Stepien and former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly. New Jerseyans may have an indomitable spirit but they are being sorely tested by the revelations of nasty politics at play.

Hopefully Christie will tell us what his administration is doing about this callous abuse of power and how he is leading the way. In his press conference on Thursday he said, “I’m not completed with those interviews yet, but when I am, if there is additional information that needs to be disclosed, I will do so.” Beyond the four close associates who have already lost their jobs, there are six other inner circle Christie colleagues who received Bridgegate e-mails at different points and could be complicit in a cover up (or of providing Christie with knowledge, before or during the lane closings, which he has denied). They are David Samson, Michael Drewniak, Charles McKenna, Maria Comella, Regina Egea, and Christina Renna. Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd, who has not been mentioned in the emails, served as Bridget Anne Kelly’s boss and hence seems either complicit or incompetent.  

Regardless of what Christie says tomorrow he also stated during the Thursday press conference, “My promise to the people of the state is that if there’s any other evidence that comes forward that requires action to be taken, I will take it.” Let’s remember that statement and hold him to it.

In the State of the State speech he will undoubtedly pat himself on the back regarding Sandy and jobs, neither of which is as rosy as he might portray it. He continues to seek tax reduction. He staunchly wants to “ensure each and every child receives the quality education they deserve,” which means more vouchers and charter schools. He might rail against the New Jersey Supreme Court and blather about reducing the size of government.

Christie can be full of surprises so tomorrow he might try to divert attention away from Bridgegate toward some new media-worthy proposal. He has built up a brand (himself) and he he will try to burnish it. He also knows his speech will garner national attention. While he addresses concerns about New Jersey he will continue to promote himself as the ideal Republican candidate for the presidency. Not an easy task now.

Today: Both the Senate and Assembly hold voting sessions with some 60 bills on each agenda. The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider seven Superior Court judge nominations including that of Robert Hanna, head of the BPU and previous nominee for the Supreme Court. Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee will consider a revised bill making changes to Jersey City’s pension fund. For more information go HERE. Tomorrow both the Senate and Assembly hold their reorganization meetings, and the 215th Legislature Second Annual Session becomes history.  

Something is Rotten in Drumthwacket

Conventional wisdom has it that the closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge was done by Christie loyalists, most likely with a wink and a nod from the Governor, in order to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (or to punish Senator Loretta Weinberg, if you buy into the Rachel Maddow theory.)

The problem is that this hypothesis makes no sense. If Christie wanted to punish Sokolich and the people of Fort Lee for supporting Barbara Buono, there would be subtler and more effective ways of doing so.

Does anyone really believe that a tie-up at the bridge and subsequent jams in the streets of Fort Lee would be immediately pinned on the mayor? Were there any editorials in the local papers on the day of the traffic jam excoriating Sokolich? Are Christie’s minions so incompetent that they think a traffic jam in North Jersey would point back to Sokolich or Weinberg?

If Christie wanted to punish Sokolich, there are other, more direct ways to do so. His biggest club would be the fiscal one. Reducing state aid to a municipality or school district that he doesn’t like is Christie’s modus operandi. The state’s eminent domain power could be invoked to place undesirable things like high-voltage power lines or sewage treatment plants in the town. Another way that Christie could punish Fort Lee residents is to perpetuate traffic jams by cancelling the ARC tunnel. (Oh wait! He already did that.)

There’s got to be more to this story than a short-lived traffic jam. Ideally, an independent special prosecutor should be brought in. Speaker-elect Prieto has indicated that he is amenable to extending the subpoena power of Assemblyman Wisniewski’s Transportation Committee. The Governor and his direct reports (Counsel Charles McKenna and Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd) must testify under oath about what they knew and when they knew it. Same for Christie’s mouthpiece, Michael Drewniak. Port Authority Chairman David Samson must testify under oath as to what orders he received from Trenton and what actions he took unilaterally. Until that happens, the stench of lies and obfuscation will permeate Christie’s second term.

For now, the idea that Christie is taking political retribution on a mayor by creating a traffic jam makes as little sense as the “traffic study” explanation that was perpetrated by Mr. Wildstein.

What’s Happening Today Tue. 12/03/2013

Events today: Board of State Canvassers meets to certify the results of last month’s general election, noon, in the Statehouse Annex’s Committee Room 5. Communications Workers of America union endorses Councilman Ras Baraka in the Newark mayoral election, 12:30pm at CWA Local 1037′s office in Newark. Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, 9:15am holds its annual summit, with speakers Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera and union executive Milly Silva, 11:30am, Crowne Plaza Monroe, South Brunswick. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker visits Cumberland County.

Where Are They Today?

Gov. Chris Christie resigned his job as New Jersey’s U. S. Attorney in 2009 to become governor. He brought with him an extraordinarily large number of former staff members from the Attorney’s Office. Who are some of these people and where are they today?

  • Paula Dow: Christie’s first cabinet appointee served as NJ’s Attorney General for less than two years and then was named to a NY/NJ Port Authority post by Christie after his nomination of her as a Superior Court Judge ended in a political standoff with the Senate.

  • Phillip Kwon: Appointed First Assistant Attorney General. In 2012 Christie nominated him to the NJ Supreme Court but the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination and he also took a job at the NY/NJ Port Authority.

  • Marc Ferzan: Appointed Executive Assistant NJ attorney general. Then after Sandy he was appointed Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding – “the Sandy Czar.”

  • Ralph J. Marra Jr.: appointed to the top legal post at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

  • Marc Larkins Appointed Executive Director of the NJ School Development Authority Board.

  • Lee Solomon: Appointed President of the Board of Public Utilities and then returned to one of his prior positions as a NJ Superior Court judge.

  • Robert Hanna: Appointed Director of the Division of Law in the Attorney General’s office and then head of the NJ Board of Public Utilities, replacing Lee Solomon, where he remains today. Christie also nominated him last year to the NJ Supreme Court, but the Senate has not acted on the nomination.

  • Stephen Taylor: Appointed Director of Criminal Justice in the AG’s office.

  • Deborah Gramiccioni:  Appointed Director of the Governor’s Authorities Unit, then Deputy Chief of Staff.

  • Jeffrey S. Chiesa: Appointed Christie’s Chief Counsel. Then in 2011 Attorney General, replacing Paula Dow. Then interim U.S. Senator following Frank Lautenberg’s death and until Cory Booker became U.S. Senator. Chiesa is now with a prominent NJ law firm.

  • Kevin M. O’Dowd: Appointed Deputy Chief Counsel, then in 2011 appointed Chief of Staff replacing Richard Bagger. Yesterday he was nominated to be Attorney General.

  • Charles McKenna: Appointed Head of Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, then replaced Jeff Chiesa as Chief Counsel.

  • Michele Brown: Governor’s Appointments Counsel, then in 2012 CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.  

  • Paul Matey: Appointed Christie’s Senior Counsel; in 2011 he replaced O’Dowd as Deputy Chief Counsel.  

    Make of this what you will: A raiding of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Christie creating a “Law and Order” governor’s office, Christie finding comfort with loyal former employees, etc. These attorneys have played key (successful and unsuccessful) roles in Christie’s administration. However, in 2011 Christie with remarkable candor and bravado said, “It’s my agenda, It’s not Kevin’s agenda or Rich’s agenda or Charlie’s agenda, or Jeff’s agenda. It’s my agenda…”