Jon Bon Jovi sang at Obama’s inauguration. Bruce Springsteen sang behind the Berlin Wall. Is David Wildstein joining this list of great New Jersey troubadours by singing to the U.S. Attorney?
The website Main Justice reported late Sunday night that Wildstein, the Christie administration’s hatchet man at the New York Port Authority, “'was camped at the U.S. Attorney’s office’ in Newark last week meeting with federal prosecutors investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closings, according to one of several people close to the case.” The story also claims that “Wildstein’s meetings indicate that prosecutors may have struck a deal with him.”
In addition to Wildstein’s conversations with the Feds, Main Justice also says that Charlie McKenna, former chief counsel to Christie, secretly met with investigators working for Paul Fishman, the United States Attorney for the District of New Jersey in mid-January.
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, one of just four Republicans on the joint legislative committee investigating Bridgegate, was happy to hear that Wildstein was talking to federal prosecutors. “Isn’t the whole point to get out the truth?” He asked. “I personally believe that [Wildstein] should have been camped out at our committee here, telling everything he knows! I know it’s not the American way, and I know that any lawyer who says you should go out there with the truth and hang with the consequences would be accused, justifiably so, of malpractice—but, if you’re in government and you do something wrong, you should—to use a sexist expression—man up! And take the consequences. He should have been telling the truth from the start.”
The 17-year veteran of the New Jersey General Assembly did not agree with the assessment that Wildstein’s presence at the U.S. Attorney’s office meant that a deal had been struck. “Maybe they will [cut a deal], maybe they won’t,” he said. “That implies that there is a deal to be cut or that there’s actually a crime that’s been committed…What did they do? It may [have been] a stupid act [to shut the lanes], it may [have been] an improper act—but heretofore, I haven’t seen anybody who’s said to me, ‘it’s this particular criminal statute.”
Although Wildstein’s nominal role at the Port Authority was to be “Director of Interstate Capital Projects,” in reality, he served as Christie’s “eyes and ears” at the multi-state government district which oversees much of the infrastructure in and around New York. Prior to taking the job, Wildstein anonymously run PolitickerNJ.com, a hyper-local website known for its obsessive insider coverage of Jersey politics and favorable coverage of then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie. Prior to his journalism career, Wildstein also served as mayor of Livingston, New Jersey, Christie’s hometown.
However, the longtime Republican activist abruptly resigned from his position ahead of hearings investigating the mysterious September lane closures, which created traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee. But the New Jersey General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, headed by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, had subpoena power—and they used it at the Port Authority. Wildstein turned over documents related to the lane closures.
Wisniewski said in January that he received the documents “virtually on Christmas Eve.” Within them was the smoking gun email sent from Christie’s deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly to Wildstein in August 2013, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein responded, “Got it.” When the documents became public, Christie promptly fired Kelly and began a campaign to smear and distance himself from Wildstein.
Shortly after the documents were released, Wildstein publicly requested immunity.
The letter sent by Wildstein’s attorney, Alan Zegas, on January 31 included the claim that “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.”
The letter was a threat to the political ambitions of Christie, a once much-vaunted 2016 presidential contender, and a tease to federal prosecutors that Wildstein had information and he was eager to give it up to save himself.
Last week, it was revealed that Wildstein had claimed to have informed Christie of the lane closures in Fort Lee at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony.
But Christie shouldn’t be worrying about what might come out, so much as he should be worried about what investigators are going to go and find. Jeff Smith, a former Missouri state senator and professor of politics and advocacy at The New School who served a year in prison for federal campaign violations while running for Congress in 2004, said that “Anyone who’s around [Christie] may be wearing a wire. I’m sure he thought of that months ago, because that’s what he did for a living [as the U.S. Attorney] for six years,” Smith said. “He should be worried about everybody…There’s a lot of people around Christie who are probably privy to various things which may be problematic.”
Being targeted by the Feds, Smith recalled, is “the closest that a human being in modern times [is going] to get to feeling what it was like when man lived in the wild and was hunted.” There are probably, Smith said, “ten people who have spent the last three months doing nothing but focusing on any criminality that [Christie’s] engaged in, or that people close to him have engaged in. Ten people who wake up everyday and have a map in their office—a map of people—that all lead back to him. And their goals to figure out a way to connect those dots until it gets back to him.”
Smith explained that federal prosecutions are like campaigns in that “you remember the people who were with you at the beginning, and the early endorsements have the most value. The people who jump on the bandwagon at the end—they have no value. It’s the same way with a federal prosecution. The information that really provides the foundation for an investigation is valuable.”
Smith said it looked like that was a concept that Wildstein fully understood from the beginning. “I think we knew two and a half months ago that [Wildstein] was rushing to the front of the front line.” Although, he noted, “usually in these investigations, people who are going to flip at least play a little harder to get than he did. I don’t think anyone ever had any doubt in their mind of how anxious he was to try to cut a deal with the Feds.”