A group of news organizations on Wednesday asked a federal judge to make public a list of unindicted coconspirators in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure case, arguing that the public had the right to the information under the First Amendment and common law.
In May, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced charges against three former allies of Gov. Christie's, alleging that they closed lanes leading to the bridge in September 2013 to punish a local mayor because he had refused to endorse the governor's reelection bid that year.
In addition to charging Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the grand jury indictment said the two had conspired with "others" to carry out the scheme.
Among the "others" mentioned is David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government.
When he announced the charges, Fishman said he did not plan to charge anyone else in the bridge scheme, given the evidence available to him.
Fishman's office this week disclosed to Baroni the names of unindicted coconspirators - the "others" referred to in the indictment, according to a court filing submitted by Baroni's attorneys.
On Tuesday, about a half-dozen news organizations, including the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, and NBC, asked U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to unseal that document and others.
The case "is of tremendous public significance, not only to the citizens of New Jersey and New York, where the allegations go to a criminal conspiracy touching on abuse of power by public officials (which by itself has sufficient importance), but also nationally, as the allegations may impact the presidential campaign of New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie, within whose administration the circumstance underlying theses charges arose," the news organizations wrote in a court brief.
They added that the public was "entitled to learn the names of those public officials and public employees that the government believes conspired to violate the public trust but were not, for whatever reason, indicted."
Christie is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Only a few government interests outweigh the public's right to the information, such as grand jury secrecy, individual privacy, and the government's need to conduct a criminal investigation without revealing the source of its evidence or identity of witnesses, the groups said.
None of those reasons applies in this case, they said.
The news organizations also said they wanted access to various other redacted or sealed documents, including information that could be beneficial to Baroni and Kelly's defense and an email Christie sent to Wildstein - then an anonymous political blogger - in 2009.
Baroni's attorneys also have asked Wigenton to make the list of unindicted coconspirators public. Attorney Michael Baldassare wrote in a court filing Tuesday that prosecutors had asked the court to "permanently shield" the names from public view because of what Fishman's office had described as the "sensitive nature" of the information.
"Mr. Baroni has a right to a full and fair trial of the false allegations level against him," Baldassare wrote. "The prosecution's repeated attempts to deprive him of those rights through secrecy cannot stand."