Christie disclosed grand jury information, Wildstein says

2015-06-08-Christie-Wildstein
Former Port Authority official David Wildstein (left) alleges in a legal matter separate from "Bridgegate" that Governor Christie disclosed information about a grand jury proceeding Christie oversaw when he was U.S. attorney.

TRENTON - Gov. Christie's hometown ally turned political antagonizer isn't done talking.

David Wildstein, the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who pleaded guilty last month to federal criminal charges in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure case, now alleges in a separate legal matter that the governor disclosed information about a grand jury proceeding Christie oversaw when he was U.S. attorney.

Experts said that if Wildstein's account was true, Christie would have violated federal grand jury secrecy laws, although one law professor said the governor could argue that his comments fell outside the scope of the rule.

Christie, a Republican, has said he will decide whether to run for president by the end of this month.

"This is just the latest legal jockeying in yet another legal proceeding involving Mr. Wildstein, but one thing should be made clear: Anyone suggesting the governor disclosed grand jury information is either lying or mistaken," Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said in an e-mail.

Wildstein's lawyer has said that "evidence exists" that Christie was aware of the lane closures as they were ongoing. Christie has said that he does not recall being told of the lane closures and that in any case, information about traffic would not have been memorable.

The latest development, first reported by the New York Times, stems from a civil lawsuit filed by a former Port Authority employee against the bistate agency and Wildstein, who attended the same high school as Christie in Livingston, Essex County.

The former employee, Gerald Speziale, says he was hired by Wildstein in 2010 as deputy superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department.

Speziale, a Democrat, had been the sheriff of Passaic County and was considering running for reelection.

Wildstein told Speziale that his job would be to root out corruption and rein in excessive spending at the agency, according to the lawsuit.

But after Speziale alerted his superiors to illegal conduct at the agency, he says, they retaliated. He alleges that he was subject to "daily harassment" and intimidation. Unable to bear the situation, he had "no alternative but to resign" and take a lower-paying job in Alabama, the suit says.

It seeks pecuniary and compensatory damages.

As part of the litigation, Speziale asked Wildstein to answer a number of questions, including listing any people with whom Wildstein discussed Speziale's job at the Port Authority.

In a sworn statement dated Friday, Wildstein recalled meeting with Christie in 2010 in the governor's private office in Trenton, along with Bill Baroni, who was Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority; Richard Baggar, then the governor's chief of staff; and Michele Brown, then Christie's appointments counsel.

Prosecutors have charged Baroni in the bridge case, alleging that he conspired with Wildstein and another Christie ally to jam traffic to punish a local mayor for failing to endorse Christie's reelection. Baroni has pleaded not guilty.

At the 2010 meeting, which allegedly took place before Speziale had been hired, Christie ordered the Port Authority to fire Arthur Cifelli, who at the time held the post of deputy superintendent of the agency's police department, Wildstein said.

Christie wanted Speziale to replace Cifelli and drop his reelection bid for sheriff "to help Republicans win the post and to take Speziale's campaign war chest out of the race," Wildstein's statement said.

The statement said Christie disclosed to Wildstein and others that Cifelli perjured himself during his testimony before a grand jury that was investigating State Sen. John Lynch, a Middlesex County power broker who would eventually go to prison on corruption charges.

If Wildstein's statement is true, Christie's remarks "would be a clear violation of the federal criminal grand jury secrecy rules and subject to contempt of court," said Barry Gross, who was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for 24 years.

"You can't even say someone testified, let alone you thought they lied," said Gross, now a white-collar defense attorney with Drinker Biddle in Philadelphia.

Christie's office "had considered prosecuting Cifelli for perjury," Wildstein recalled Christie as saying.

If true, this statement could also be considered improper, Gross said, for disclosing the inner workings of the decision-making of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Grand jury secrecy rules are important, Gross said, because prosecutors do not want to reveal ongoing investigations. Also, disclosure of an investigation or possible prosecution could tarnish a person's reputation if he isn't prosecuted, Gross added.

Stuart Green, a professor of criminal law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, said that assuming Wildstein's statements are accurate, "on its face, it seems like [Christie] did breach" the secrecy rule.

But he also said Christie might be able to argue that the alleged comments did not reveal the inner workings of the grand jury. "The rule is not so broad that anything that's related to a revelation that occurred in the grand jury is not disclosable," Green said.

Green said he was unaware of any federal statute that makes violating the secrecy rule a crime. While a judge could issue contempt sanctions, Green called that "highly unlikely," given that five years have passed since Christie allegedly made the comments.

Wildstein says he spoke with dozens of other officials about Speziale, including representatives of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Wildstein's statement suggests that more evidence could come to light. "See also documents to be produced for inspection," it says.

Wildstein's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment. Cifelli declined to comment. A lawyer for Speziale did not return a message seeking comment.


aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846 @AndrewSeidman

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