Charges filed in the wake of the Bridgegate criminal investigation into abuses by political appointees at the Port Authority, then headed by Samson.
October 25, 2016
October 11, 2016
|“Christie was fuming” word had leaked out and he wanted to know who did|
It was early December 2013, and Gov. Chris Christie was fuming.
The Republican governor was set to hold a high-profile press conference to announce the resignation of his top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He had summoned his senior staff to a 10 a.m. meeting in his office.
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With the scandal surrounding the George Washington Bridge lane closures continuing to grow, Christie wore his emotions on his sleeve, according to Deborah Gramiccioni, who was about to be named the new deputy executive director of the Port Authority, which operates the bridge.
“During this meeting with the governor and senior staff, the governor was incredibly angry and let us know how angry he was,” Gramiccioni, who was then a deputy chief of staff to Christie, testified in federal court on Monday. “In a thunderous tone, [he] told us how disappointed he was that he had just won a landslide victory and was now dealing with a number of things, one of them being the lane closure.”
Christie wanted to know if the staffers had any emails — any information — about the lane closures. He gave a deadline: Staff had one hour to tell either of his two highest ranking staffers, Counsel Charles McKenna or Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd, what they knew, according to Gramiccioni.
Gramiccioni, sitting in U.S. District Court this morning, said she had already told McKenna and O’Dowd that she heard Bridget Anne Kelly, another deputy chief of staff to Christie and now a defendant in the Bridgegate case, was on emails involving the lane closures. She said she also told Christie that a day earlier. And Gramiccioni said that Bill Baroni, the man she was about to replace at the Port who is now also a defendant in the case, was the one who told her.
Baroni and Kelly were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They are accused of closing local access lanes to the bridge — the world’s busiest — to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing the Republican governor in his 2013 re-election bid.
Gramiccioni testified that after the meeting with the governor, she continued to prepare for the press conference, but at several points saw into Kelly’s office. O’Dowd was hovering over Kelly’s shoulder, looking at her computer screen. She said she also “believed” she saw Bill Stepien, the governor’s campaign manager, standing in the corner.
Christie held his press conference, and of course was asked about the lane closures and whether he could “say with certainty” that no one on his staff had been involved. Christie said he could.
Later in the day, before leaving the statehouse, Gramiccioni said she saw Kelly in her office. Kelly looked like she’d been crying, so she went to talk to her.
“She said that she had been looking at her computer through her emails all morning and she didn’t know if she had any emails regarding the lane closures,” Gramiccioni said. “I didn’t understand that.”
Kelly said she would routinely delete emails because she had a contentious relationship with her ex-husband and didn’t want her children to find any emails between them, Gramiccioni recalled.
“I said, did you have anything to do with this?” Gramiccioni said. “And she adamantly denied having anything to do with the lane closures.”
Gramiccioni said she told Kelly, who she considered a friend, that she should come clean if she had anything to do with the incident.
A month later, after an email was released in which Kelly declared it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie fired Kelly.
The governor, currently a top adviser to Donald Trump, has denied any knowledge of or involvement in the incident.
David Wildstein, who was appointed by Christie to be the Port’s director of interstate capital projects, has testified that he and Baroni told the governor about the lane closures as they were occurring. Wildstein has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy counts and implicated the two other defendants.
Gramiccioni, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is currently executive director of the Center of the Administration of Criminal Law at the NYU Law School, was nominted this year by Christie for a Superior Court judgeship in Monmouth County. The nomination is still pending before the state Senate.
July 15, 2016
Jamie Fox, a former state cabinet official and longtime power player in New Jersey politics, has been charged in connection with the federal government's long-running investigation into the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced the criminal complaint against Fox at a press conference Thursday about an hour after the Port Authority's former chairman, David Samson, pleaded guilty to a bribery count for his role in securing a special United Airlines flight between Newark Liberty International Airport and Columbia, S.C., not far from his vacation home.
Fox, a former Port Authority official who later became a lobbyist for the airline, is charged with conspiracy to commit bribery for allegedly using his influence to help arrange the flight, which shaved hours off Samson's commute.
If convicted, Fox faces up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.
Fox has previously denied using his influence to secure the flight, which was canceled shortly after Samson stepped down from the Port Authority in March 2014.
An internal investigation by United led to the ouster of the airline's chief executive, Jeff Smisek, and two other executives in September 2015.
On Thursday, Fishman said United will pay a $2.25 million penalty for its role in the special flight, known to insiders as the "chairman's flight." The airline also agreed to institute "substantial reforms to its compliance program," Fishman said.
In a statement, Fox's lawyer, Michael Critchley, called his client an honorable public servant who believed the arrangement between United and Samson was "fully vetted and completely appropriate."
"Anyone who knows Jamie knows that he would never jeopardize his reputation by engaging in the behavior alleged in the indictment," Critchley said. "Jamie is not a lawyer. ... Jamie unfortunately has found himself caught in the middle of an arrangement that he believed was reviewed and approved by the necessary business and legal professionals."
Critchley added that Fox, who is suffering from "multiple, serious" illnesses, "will not allow this unfair stain to be the last word on his distinguished career."
The U.S. Attorney called the behavior by both Samson and Fox "honestly so sad."
"They both should have known better," Fishman said. "They both did know better."
He added that when public officials misuse their offices, it shakes trust in government.
"It's a betrayal of our trust," he said. "It breathes more life into the cynical view that all people in government are corrupt."
The federal probe into the United route was an outgrowth of the investigation into the politically motivated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge.
Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, and his ally at the Port Authority, former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, are charged with orchestrating the lane closures in September 2013 as payback to the mayor of Fort Lee for declining to endorse the governor in his re-election effort.
Another former Christie ally, David Wildstein, has already pleaded guilty in the case. Kelly and Baroni are expected to stand trial in September.
The closures caused gridlock for hours in Fort Lee, delaying ambulances on emergency calls and buses ferrying kids to school.
U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton denied motions to dismiss the case.
By filing charges against Fox, the federal government is pursuing another figure with an outsize imprint on New Jersey politics, particularly among Democrats.
Once a staffer in the administration of former Gov. Jim Florio, Fox later served as chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli and former Gov. James E. McGreevey.
When McGreevey resigned in disgrace in 2004, Fox jumped to the Port Authority, where he held the position of deputy executive director, a position of significant authority at the bistate agency, which controls billions of dollars.
Fox left in 2007 to work a private consultant, briefly suspending that role while he served as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign. He then returned to his consulting firm, which counted among its clients United Airlines.
Fox is also a two-time commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, first from 2002 to 2003 and then from September 2014 to October 2015. He announced his resignation as commissioner amid increasing scrutiny about his role in the "chairman's flight."
Two former state officials accused him of violating ethics laws by failing to recuse himself from talks at a private meeting between Port Authority officials and United executives. Fox denied any ethical lapse.
By Ted Sherman and Mark Mueller | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
By Ted Sherman and Mark Mueller | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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