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Federal prosecutors probe BridgeGate scandal

Jim Hoffer investigates.
May 5, 2014 8:43:04 AM PDT
The U.S. Attorney in Newark has launched a preliminary investigation into the BridgeGate scandal.

The investigation broke wide open on Wednesday, with the release of emails and text messages that suggested a top aide to Gov. Chris Christie arranged traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee's mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, said he was "reviewing the matter to determine whether a federal law was implicated."

The emails and texts show the attempt to disrupt traffic was political, but was it a crime?

David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee who resigned from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after being implicated in the scandal, refused to answer questions Thursday from the legislative committee that is investigating.

The oath to be truthful to the best of his belief was about the only question the man at the center of the scandal answered.

Wildstein refused to answer clearly out of fear of potential legal prosecution for his role in the September traffic lane closures as his attorney explained.

"I don't believe Mr. Wildstein is guilty of anything criminal, yet at the same time he has the right under both federal and state constitutions to not give answers," said Wildstein's attorney, Alan Zegas.

The legal noose could be tigthening around Wildstein, who resigned last month as Chritstie's number 2 appointee at the Port Authority as underscored by this statement to Eyewitness News from the Authority's Inspector General, whose spokesman says, "We have communicated with the U.S. Attorney for the district of New Jersey and are assisting them in their preliminary review of the matter."

"It seems like there's a crime here but very hard to articulate," said former prosecutor David Schwartz.

Schwartz says proving that Wildstein or the now fired Christie Deputy Chief of Staff broke any laws will be difficult.

"Were people of New Jersey deprived of safe travel to the GW bridge, absolutely, but does it rise to a level of crime, I don't think so because you're missing that personal benefit."

In other words, there's no proof of a kickback or bribery, at worst political payback.

But the New Jersey Law on Official Misconduct revised a few years ago states one is guilty of misconduct if actions were to benefit or to injure another.

"It says to injure, they don't mean physical harm. You could argue creating chaos among thousands of drivers..", we said to Schwartz. "It's a great point," he said.

Still, without some evidence of monetary gain, state or federal prosecutors legal experts tell us may be reluctant to bring charges.

But the list of those calling for investigations seems to grow by the hour. Even members of New York's City Council want a probe into possible crimes committed.

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