The U.S. attorney in New Jersey is launching an inquiry into the “Bridgegate” scandal plaguing Governor Chris Christie, but it’s not clear what federal law is at issue, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The scandal that’s now worthy of a “gate” suffix is about an epic traffic jam in September on the George Washington Bridge that goes into Fort Lee, N.J. Christie’s staff was accused of closing lanes on the GW as political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, who didn’t endorse the governor.
While the U.S. attorney is investigating the matter, there isn’t an obvious federal law that has been broken. The Journal points out that the Supreme Court recently narrowed a federal fraud law that might have been used in the past, known as the Honest Services Statute.
That is a broad federal law that makes it illegal to defraud somebody of his right to honest services (in this case, the right to go to work without having public officials screw up your commute). However, the high court ruled in 2010 that kickbacks or bribery have to be involved when prosecutors use that law.
In the Christie case, his now-fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly reportedly sent an email that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” to an ally of Chris Christie. That ally, David Wildstein, worked for the Port Authority. The lanes were closed, and a rush-hour nightmare ensued for four days.
But there’s not any obvious evidence of kickbacks or bribery, the Journal reported. Of course, people can be charged with obstruction of justice for covering up an investigation. (Think about the original “gate,” Watergate.)
Any officials involved with “Bridgegate” could also get up in state law, The Journal notes. From the paper:
State law could prove more useful for prosecutors. In New Jersey, a public servant may be convicted of “official misconduct” for a breach of a prescribed duty related to the office with the intention of “injuring or depriving” another person of a benefit. The crime of official misconduct is a second-degree offence that can carry a prison sentence of five to 10 years.
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