In a few weeks, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire—in contests with portentous consequences for the nation—will be deciding who they want to be president of the United States. One of those candidates could very well be an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal criminal case. His name is Chris Christie and he is the governor of New Jersey, but the feds won’t tell us whether he is on the secret list of co-conspirators .
Paul Fishman, who succeeded Christie as the state’s chief federal prosecutor, seems determined to shield his predecessor from the consequences of involvement in closing down the busiest interstate crossing in the nation for political reasons. Fishman has argued he won’t release the names of co-conspirators because of the “sensitive nature” of the disclosure.
Sensitive? It is difficult to imagine anything more sensitive than the unwitting, possible election to the nation’s highest political office of someone who may have been involved in a federal crime.
In March of 1974, a federal grand jury investigating the break-in at the Watergate building in Washington, DC, named Richard Nixon, then nothing less than the sitting president of the United States, as an unindicted co-conspirator. The republic survived that—as it did subsequent disclosures that Nixon was so deeply involved in Watergate that calling him an unindicted co-conspirator was about the mildest thing that could be said about him.
The idea that Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly, and David Wildstein concocted the Bridgegate scheme without the knowledge and consent of Christie himself is nothing short of a fantasy. The possibility that Christie could march on to the presidency without the nation knowing of the extent of his involvement in a federal crime is a disgrace to the criminal justice system.
Long before Bridgegate, I interviewed Paul Fishman. I asked him about Christie’s behavior as the United States attorney for New Jersey. Fishman would not answer my questions. Unlike Christie, Fishman has not used the federal prosecutor’s office to advance his own political agenda and he has not used the tactics employed by Christie to destroy potential political rivals in the press and in the grand jury room.
Then, the issue was whether he would be critical of a predecessor who went on to become the governor of New Jersey. Now the issue is whether Fishman knows information the people of the nation—as well as of the state—need to know to make perhaps the most important political choice they face.
The needs of Kelly’s and Baroni’s defenses alone trump—forgive the pun—whatever “sensitive” issues Fishman can offer. Certainly, the greater good of the nation requires release.
Media organizations have demanded that a federal judge release the names of those mentioned in a federal grand jury indictment. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the case “is of tremendous public significance, not only to the citizens of New Jersey and New York, where the allegations go to a criminal conspiracy touching on abuse of power by public officials (which by itself has sufficient importance), but also nationally, as the allegations may impact the presidential campaign of New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie, within whose administration the circumstance underlying theses charges arose,” the news organizations wrote in a court brief.
They added that the public was “entitled to learn the names of those public officials and public employees that the government believes conspired to violate the public trust but were not, for whatever reason, indicted.”
That should have happened long ago. The public already knows Christie met with Wildstein in September of 2013 right in the middle of the traffic crisis. Pretending that could happen without Christie knowing what was happening just miles away is an insult to the intelligence of the state’s and the nation’s people. It could not have happened.
Michael Baldassare, Baroni’s attorney, has argued that Fishman has taken extraordinary steps to “permanently shield” others who might have been involved in the conspiracy. That is a serious charge, one Fishman—at the very least—should be required to answer in open court.
At the moment, a small number of persons—lawyers, judges, the defendants themselves—know what all people in the state and nation should know: Who really knew about and ordered the dangerous traffic jams in 2013, just before Christie was overwhelmingly re-elected. The few people who know apparently are a special class of citizens with special rights denied to those down here looking up.
Here’s a question for Paul Fishman—and anyone else who wants to keep Christie’s involvement a secret: If an aggressive media had revealed in September of 2013 what is known now about Bridgegate, would Christie have won so handily that November? He certainly could not have used his landslide re-election victory as a springboard for his presidential aspirations. His hopes would have been crushed.
Now Fishman seems determined to keep the extent of Christie’s involvement a secret until well after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Perhaps forever. So here’s another question for Fishman: