Supreme Court throws out two Bridgegate convictions
The Supreme Court on Thursday threw out the convictions of two government officials implicated in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal, in which then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) allies schemed to create a traffic jam to punish a local mayor.
The justices said in their unanimous decision that while the scheme involved deception and corruption, it did not violate federal law.
“The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court’s opinion. “The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct. Under settled precedent, the officials could violate those laws only if an object of their dishonesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property.”
The case centered around convictions of Bridget Anne Kelly, a former aide to Christie, and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority official, for their role in a scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create traffic problems for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who had refused to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign.
The two were convicted of fraud for lying about a fake traffic study in order to justify the lane closures.
The justices reasoned that in order to be convicted under the fraud statutes that Kelly and Baroni were charged with, a public official would have to be seeking money or property in such a scheme. Kagan wrote that it was not enough to show that a public official had lied about their actions.
“That requirement, this Court has made clear, prevents these statutes from criminalizing all acts of dishonesty by state and local officials,” Kagan wrote.
President Trump touted the ruling later Thursday, declaring it “a complete and total exoneration” for Christie and others involved while blasting what he called “grave misconduct by the Obama Justice Department.”
….are getting caught doing very evil things, and Republicans should take note. This was grave misconduct by the Obama Justice Department! @GovChristie
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2020
Kelly, who has maintained that she was made into a scapegoat over the fallout from the scandal, said on Thursday that she was relieved by the decision.
“Today, the Court gave me back my name and began to reverse the six-and-a-half-year nightmare that has become my life,” she said in a statement. “Having been maligned, I now stand with my family and friends knowing that due process worked. While this may finally have made this case right for me, it does not absolve those who should have truly been held accountable.”
Christie also applauded the decision, saying it was a welcome rebuke to an overzealous federal prosecutor.
“This case was driven by a U.S. Attorney and Justice Department in search of a predetermined and biased outcome,” Christie said in a statement. “In recklessly pursuing that outcome, they violated the oath sworn by every member of the Department of Justice.”
Updated at 1:42 p.m.
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