Monday, January 20, 2014
New Jersey governor Chris Christie is on the front burner.
David Wildstein wants to make a proffer and Chris Christie needs a lawyer whose name isn’t David Samson.
Wildstein has a lawyer and his name is Alan Zegas.
A proffer is a preview of what a person would testify to, if called as a witness in a legal proceeding. In other words, Wildstein wants immunity from prosecution in exchange for his cooperation and testimony against others, which presumably includes Governor Christie. To measure the value of his offer, and decide whether to accept it, a prosecutor would want to find out what he would say. That would involve an interview, which is called a proffer.
If the prosecutor decides to reject the offer to cooperate and testify against others and decides instead to prosecute the person who made the proffer, he cannot use any information disclosed during the proffer in that trial.
The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the Fort Lee lane-closure scandal, which has come to be known as Bridgegate, wanted to question David Wildstein last week about the closure in September because he is the member of the Port Authority who issued the order to close the two toll lanes at one of the toll plaza entryways to the George Washington Bridge to New York City from Fort Lee and its surrounding communities in New Jersey. The George Washington bridge is the busiest bridge in the world and the closure caused epic traffic delays that enraged commuters last September.
Local area officials and emergency services officers, as well as the general public, were not notified of the lane closures.
Fort Lee officials declared the unannounced closures a threat to public safety, noting multiple cases in which emergency services responses had been delayed, and said that schools had been disrupted by the delayed arrivals of students and teachers who had been caught in the traffic jams.
The local-access lanes were finally reopened on September 13 by order of Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye (an appointee of Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic New York Governor), who stated that the Port Authority process had been subverted and that he believed the closures were unlawful.
Several of Christie’s appointees resigned or were fired as investigations into the closures intensified. David Wildstein, on whose direct orders the traffic lanes had been closed, and Bill Baroni, who had told the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee that the closures had only been for a traffic study, resigned following sworn testimony by Foye and other Port Authority officials that the two men had violated protocols and had sought to hide their plans for the lane closings from Fort Lee and other officials. Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, who had e-mailed Wildstein advising him that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”, was fired by Christie, who said she had not been forthcoming with him about her involvement in the closures. Christie also withdrew support for his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, to become the state Republican Party chair.
A widely discussed hypothesis is that the lanes were closed as political retribution against Christie’s political opponents, particularly Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not supporting Christie, a Republican, in the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election. Investigators are also examining other possible motives, such as whether the closures were intended to affect a major real estate development project, which was a top priority for Sokolich, that was underway at the Fort Lee bridge access point.
The story has garnered national attention because Governor Christie has been considered a front-runner among potential Republican candidates for the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
Wildstein is not the only suspect from whom the committee seeks answers. The bigger question that the committee is investigating is whether New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered the closure.
Wildstein appeared with his lawyer last week before the committee and refused to answer any questions on the ground that his answers might tend to incriminate him.
David Wildstein, the Port Authority appointee who refused to testify last week, will talk as long as he has immunity from prosecutors and he will provide complete emails, texts and other messages related to the George Washington Bridge lane closures, his lawyer said today.
“Based upon my many years of experience as an attorney, he would be in a position to shed significant light upon what had occurred,” said Alan Zegas. “His information could be used to test the credibility of others.”
The real estate development project underway at the Fort Lee bridge-access point is not the only real estate development project in the news about Chris Christie.
Dawn Zimmer, mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey last week accused Chris Christie late last week of withholding federal emergency funds for disaster relief to Hoboken which was inundated by Hurricane Sandy because she refused to support a plan to develop an industrial section at the north end of Hoboken. Even though 80% of the city was flooded, Hoboken only received $120,000 or less than 1% of the federal money.
Armed with entries from her personal journal, the mayor, Dawn Zimmer, who has long been a supporter of the embattled governor, went on national television and accused Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Richard Constable, a member of Christie’s cabinet, of attempting to strong-arm her last year.
“She pulls me aside with no one else and says that I need to move forward with the Rockefeller project,” Zimmer wrote in an entry, referring to Guadagno. “It’s very important to the governor. The word is that you are against it and you need to move forward or we are not going to be able to help you. I know it’s not right. These things should not be connected. But they are, she says. ‘If you tell anyone I said it, I will deny it.’”
Appearing on MSNBC, Zimmer claimed she was twice approached by the administration to persuade her to approve a three-block development project sought by the Rockefeller Group, which was represented at the time by Wolff & Samson, the law firm of David Samson, a Christie ally.
Samson, a former state attorney general and the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was subpoenaed Friday as part of the bridge scandal. His law firm earned more than $1.9 million in the first two years of Christie’s first term, more than twice its take in the past two years under Gov. Jon Corzine. Samson was also counsel to the governor’s first gubernatorial campaign and helped lead his transition team.
Zimmer told MSNBC that Lori Grifa, as former commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs under Christie, helped Hoboken secure a $75,000 grant through the Port Authority to pay for a study on what to do with 19 blocks of valuable, undeveloped land.
But Zimmer said she was baffled when the study determined, in January of last year, that only three of the 19 blocks should be developed — the same blocks owned by the Rockefeller Group. Just those parcels would have been eligible for tax breaks and other incentives, she said.
The mayor said she did not support that plan despite pressure from Grifa, who had since left the administration to work as a lobbyist for Wolff & Samson. Grifa tried to connect city officials and Samson to push for the development, according to emails that Zimmer provided MSNBC.
“I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s outrageous,” Zimmer said.
Hoboken’s planning board in April voted against designating those three blocks for development, preferring to develop all 19 instead.
Zimmer said the same month, she was approached by Guadagno, the second-highest elected official in the state and Christie’s top saleswoman for promoting business and development, she was also solicited by Constable, Christie’s current commissioner of community affairs.
“We are mic’d up with other panelists all around us, and probably the sound team is listening, and he says ‘I hear you’re against the Rockefeller project … If you move that forward, the money would start flowing to you,’ ” Zimmer wrote in a journal entry.
“I don’t think it’s fair,” she told The Star-Ledger. “I think it’s outrageous.”
She is right. Not only is it outrageous, it is criminal behavior.
She met with the United States Attorney yesterday afternoon for several hours.
Chris Christie is in serious legal jeopardy.
He needs a lawyer and David Sampson cannot represent him because he has a conflict of interest. He is the chairman of the Port Authority and has been subpoenaed by a legislative committee investigating Bridgegate.