President Trump's pick to be the next FBI director, Christopher Wray, billed New Jersey taxpayers more than $2.1 million in legal charges and expenses while representing Gov. Chris Christie as his personal attorney before during and after the Bridgegate trial.
It is unclear what Wray and an extensive team from his firm, King & Spalding LLP, was doing for Christie — the bills provided to WNYC from the state Attorney General's Office are heavily redacted, and Wray has never spoken publicly about his role. Christie was never charged by federal prosecutors in the lane-closing scandal, and he has long maintained his innocence while refraining from getting into details about how the conspiracy took hold within his administration.
The public did not even know that Wray was working for the governor until nearly two years into his work when Christie's spokesman said a cell phone that the governor used during Bridgegate was in Wray's possession. Two former Christie aides who were indicted and ultimately convicted had unsuccessfully sought to subpoena the phone to use as part of their defense.
Instead of Wray, it was Christie's other lawyer, Randy Mastro of the Gibson Dunn firm, who was the public face of the defense as the lead attorney for the governor's office. Mastro's bill for legal and digital forensics work amounted to more than $11 million. Since the public is also responsible for paying for the lawyers of other government employees who were not convicted, plus the legal staff of the Democratic legislature's investigative committee, Bridgegate legal bills now exceed $15 million.
But while Mastro's legal bills faced scrutiny from the media and Democrats in New Jersey, Wray was quietly expensing taxi fare, parking, meals and even plane trips — 10 of them, totaling more than $14,000. He also billed $340 an hour.
Legal work ramped up during the Bridgegate trial last fall, reaching about $300,000. Christie was never called to testify, and his team did not submit legal briefs to the court.
But Wray continued to bill the state, charging $1,963.40 for a plane flight after the trial ended and for legal expenses until at least April 25, a month after defendants Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni were sentenced to 18 months and two years in prison, respectively. Both are appealing, and a third conspirator, David Wildstein, is awaiting a sentencing next month.
Wray's role as Christie's attorney has been shrouded in secrecy. When Christie's spokesman Brian Murray revealed Wray's identity last summer, Murray refused to say whether taxpayers were paying his bills. After Trump announced Wray as his pick to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, The Asbury Park Press reported that taxpayers were paying for Wray. That prompted WNYC to file a public records request to the Attorney General's Office seeking the bills, which by law are supposed to be provided immediately. The documents were instead provided more than a week later, after 11 p.m. last Friday.
Wray, Mastro and their respective colleagues are not Christie's only Bridgegate attorneys. Craig Carpenito was paid $150-an-hour by taxpayers to defend Christie from a related criminal complaint; Carpenito is now reportedly Christie's recommended pick to be Trump's nominee for U.S. Attorney in New Jersey. Christie also counted on publicly-funded legal counsel in the Bridgegate aftermath from Chris Porrino, who was then the governor's counsel and is now the state's Attorney General.
Christie hasn't said whether he recommended Wray for the FBI job. But Christie remains close with the president and he has publicly endorsed the pick, saying he and Wray worked together when Christie was U.S. Attorney and Wray was an official at the Justice Department. And, Christie said, "when I had to retain legal counsel during a very, very troubling, confusing, difficult time for me, I made one phone call, and that was to Chris Wray."
by Matt Katz