The photo of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his crony David Wildstein yukking it up at Ground Zero during a memorial observance of the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was insult enough to the thousands who were murdered there.
Insult becomes obscenity as a federal prosecutor now tells us what the government believes Christie and Wildstein and fellow crony Bill Baroni were laughing about that day in 2013.
As recounted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna in Newark federal court on Monday, Wildstein and Baroni bragged to Christie during this 9/11 memorial that they had shut down access lanes leading from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge three days before to punish the mayor of that New Jersey town because he had failed to endorse the governor for re-election.
The big laugh was that Wildstein and Baroni and Christie’s chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, had been ignoring repeated calls from the mayor, Mark Sokolich.
Sokolich had been growing increasingly desperate because the traffic resulting from the lane closures was creating what he termed “a public safety emergency” in which ambulances and other emergency vehicles were having trouble getting through.
“The evidence will show that Baroni and Wildstein were so committed to their plan to punish Mayor Sokolich during those few minutes they had alone with the governor they bragged about the fact there were traffic problems in Fort Lee and Mayor Sokolich was not getting his calls returned,” Khanna said.
The prosecutor’s remarks were delivered to the jury at the opening of what is expected to be a six-week trial. Baroni and Kelly face conspiracy, wire fraud, and civil rights charges for their part in the lane closures, which stretched for five days.
Wildstein has already pleaded guilty and is expected to be the prosecutor’s star witness in exchange for a more lenient sentence. The charges against Baroni and Kelly also include misusing an organization receiving federal funds, the organization in question being the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Baroni had been appointed by Christie to be his top representative there, the executive deputy director. Wildstein was officially the director of interstate capital projects, but he was better known as Christie’s “fixer.” Baroni’s lawyer, Michael Baldassare, told the jury that Christie sometimes called Wildstein his “Dr. Wolf,” the character who disposes of bodies in the movie Pulp Fiction.
“At the Port Authority at the time, when David Wildstein spoke, Governor Christie’s voice came out and everybody knew it,” Baldassare said.
As is widely known, this bi-state agency built the World Trade Center. A total of 37 Port Authority police officers died on 9/11, the greatest single loss of any law enforcement agency in American history.
And yet, the prosecutor says, these two senior officials of the Port Authority were laughing with Christie at a 9/11 memorial about ignoring a mayor’s distress that Fort Lee’s first responders were being hindered.
Christie has denied from the start that he had any knowledge of the lane closings. He insisted that he was cleared by an investigation commissioned by his office and headed by a former prosecutor with close ties to Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has called Christie “my brother.” Christie has characterized the decision of federal prosecutors not to charge him as “vindication.”
Among the many skeptics of that claim was Donald Trump, who made his opinion known as he was running against Christie in the South Carolina primary back in December.
“He totally knew about it,” Trump declared.
All that was forgotten as soon as Christie was out of the race and sucking up to Trump with the hope of becoming The Donald’s running mate. The honor went instead to Mike Pence, but Christie remained enough of a suck-up to be named the chief of Trump’s transition team in May.
A Trumpian twist came in late August, when the Trump campaign hired Bill Stepien, previously Christie’s campaign manager in his successful run for New Jersey governor and again in the successful re-election bid that the mayor of Fort Lee was punished for failing to support. Stepien was fired from his position as a top Christie aide after emails suggested an embarrassing link to the “Bridgegate” scandal. Christie declared himself to be shocked, just shocked, saying, “I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the emails by my former campaign manager, Bill Stepien.”
Stepien, who was romantically linked to Kelly, was said to have broken it off just around the time of the lane closings. He was not indicted, as was his paramour. He set off to work for Trump as she was preparing to defend herself in federal court, facing as much as 20 years in prison for her alleged activities in the days surrounding Sept. 11, 2013.
Their former boss, Christie, continued to ingratiate himself with Stepien’s new boss, Trump, with the governor even accompanying The Donald down to Ground Zero for this year’s memorial observance marking the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Trump’s arrival there was met by a mixture of cheers and boos. Neither was appropriate at such an observance, though the boos were understandable given Trump’s long history of lying about 9/11, saying that he had lost hundreds of friends and that he had watched jumpers from his apartment window four miles away and that he had seen news footage of American Muslims celebrating the attack that day. The cheers for Trump were mystifying, given that admittance to the memorial that day was largely restricted to those who had lost somebody close in the attack.
At least nobody was yukking it up, as Christie and Wildstein were at the 12th anniversary observance. Even if you take Christie at his word that he did not know about the lane closings, there is photographic proof of him laughing with Wildstein on a day of remembrance at a place made sacred by the loss of so many innocents, so many selfless first responders.
If you believe the prosecutor, Christie and Wildstein were laughing at a mayor’s concern that his first responders might be forced into a nightmare; giving their monumental all to assist somebody in distress only to be thwarted by a traffic jam arranged to avenge a petty political slight.
Either way, Christie exhibited a sickness of soul in 2013 equal to that long evidenced by Trump. And here is an illness far more worrisome than whatever caused Hillary Clinton to leave this year’s ceremony early and faint just as she reached her vehicle.
Christie and Trump seemed steady enough on their feet as they departed, but their decency must have long since fainted dead away. They had proven themselves devoid of shame.
Christie hurried like a worried duckling behind Trump, whose ducktail hairdo made momentary sense.
Turds of a feather.