Politics

02.01.14

David Wildstein: A Christie Groupie Scorned?

The aide’s new charges against New Jersey’s governor come at a curious time. It could be having to foot his own legal costs—or the sting of a disavowal that dates back to high school.

Christie knew!

Christie lied!

Those are the allegations from the former Port Authority official who set in motion the September lane closings on the George Washington Bridge that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has insisted he knew nothing about.

The charges are plainly stated in a letter to the general counsel of the Port Authority from the lawyer for former Port Authority official David Wildstein.

The mystery is why Wildstein and attorney, Alan Zegas, are saying it now.

Wildstein clearly is not driven by guilt over having inflicted chaos on so many people over a four-day period that began with the first day of school in Fort Lee, N.J.

The answer may be that Christie is facing a groupie scorned who chose to strike at the start of the Super Bowl, with the same kind of vengeful timing as the start of the lane closings.

Consider the Port Authority photo of Christie and Wildstein laughing together down at ground zero on what was both the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the third day of the lane closings.

Wildstein looks exactly like how an upstanding and non-political Port Authority official later described him.

“He was like a Christie groupie,” says the official, who asks not to be named. “He was like a teenager where the sun rises and sets on a rock band or something. He was admiring of the guy. To then be pushed to the side…”

The official was referring to the marathon press conference where, among other things, Christie insisted that Wildstein had lied to him and that the two were never close. That is the same press conference the letter cites, saying, “Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”

A letter suggesting he has proof Christie is lying is not going to make the Port Authority change its mind and risk rousing a force far greater than that of a groupie scorned.

What would sting any groupie most would be a disavowal by the adored one that there was any connection between them, most particularly if the adoration goes all the way back to when they were in the same high school. None of the statements regarding him at that press conference likely hurt Wildstein worse than when Christie said. “David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. We didn’t travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don’t know what David was doing during that period of time.”

Wildstein may have imagined that Christie was only saying this out of political necessity, that there was still a link between them, as when he kept the stats for the high school baseball team on which Christie was a star player, or when he kept a political blog while Christie became a major player of another kind.

But Christie’s press conference disavowal of Wildstein was followed by a decree by the Port Authority that it would not be covering Wildstein’s legal bills or indemnifying him from any liabilities that might result from his actions. Wildstein had been officially cut loose.

And the hurt must have been compounded by word that the Port Authority was still considering whether to pay the legal expenses for the executive who was forced so resign along with him, his former boss and Christie appointee, William Baroni.

Wildstein’s lawyer suggests that Baroni had been at variance with other accounts of the closings when testifying before a legislative committee, whereas Wildstein had simply cited his constitutional right not to answer questions that might incriminate him.

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Gov. Chris Christie shares a laugh with David Wildstein during a break in 9/11 ceremonies in New York City on September 11, 2013. (Matt McDermottThe Port Authority of NY & NJ)

The letter's suggestion seems to be that Wildstein deserves at least as much consideration as Baroni because he refrained from lying and simply refused to speak truths—truths which he now indicates he would be willing to tell in the right circumstances, and back up some of it with evidence.

For Wildstein’s lawyer, the immediate reason for the letter clearly was to persuade the Port Authority to reverse itself regarding his client’s legal fees. Section XI of the agency’s bylaws does state that the agency “shall provide for the defense of the indemnified party in any civil action or proceeding in any state or federal court arising out of any alleged act or omission which occurred or is alleged in the complaint to have occurred while the individual was acting within the scope of Port Authority employment or duties.”

But saying in the letter that the lane closings were done upon “the Christie administration’s order” does not make that order any more legitimate or any more within the within the rightful scope of Wildstein’s job.

And pointing out that numerous Port Authority officials have ties to Christie does not make Wildstein any more eligible to have his legal bills paid.

The letter talks about conflicts of interest on the part of these other officials. But the overriding fact is that Wildstein’s actions were in conflict with the public interest, which it was his duty to protect.

On what could have only been deliberately chosen because it was the first day of school, Wildstein had watched the streets of Fort Lee gridlocked with anxious kids as commuters waited hours to pay an outrageous $13 toll at a single booth.

Wildstein now might as well be asking for those same folks to pay for his lawyer. A letter suggesting he has proof Christie is lying is not going to make the Port Authority change its mind and risk rousing a force far greater than that of a groupie scorned, that being the force of working people roused to righteous indignation.

The letter ends by suggesting “there are palpable conflicts at every level of the Port Authority’s hierarchy which demand that the Port Authority pay for Mr. Wildstein’s legal representation.”

The logic behind this supposed demand might be clearer if Wildstein had not so palpably violated the public trust.

Wildstein became no less repugnant a figure as his lawyer’s letter also made reference to “certain commissioners of the Port Authority” who had been tied to land deals where the Christie administration is alleged to have brought political pressure to bear.

Christie was quick to respond with a statement that began with a line that was audacious even by Jersey standards.

“Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer confirms what the governor has said all along—he had absolutely no prior knowledge of the lane closures before they happened and whatever Mr. Wildstein’s motivations were for closing them to begin with,” it said.

The statement went on to say,  “As the governor said in a December 13th press conference, he only first learned lanes were closed when it was reported by the press and as he said in his January 9th press conference, had no indication that this was anything other than a traffic study until he read otherwise the morning of January 8th. The governor denies Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer’s other assertions.”

Whether the letter's assertions are truthful or not, the fact that Wildstein is making them through his lawyer at all may well have more to do with those other things Christie said at the press conference.

“I bet every one of those words was a stab directly in the heart,” says the upstanding official who asks not to be named.