U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman has “a hard line to walk” in overseeing an inquiry into the so-called “Bridgegate” involving his predecessor, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, legal observers and defense attorneys told a local newspaper.
Contrasting Christie’s style with that of his successor, New Jersey criminal defense lawyer Lawrence Lustberg said the governor’s approach was “more visceral, and was based on more on his gut reaction of what was right and wrong.”
By comparison, Lustberg said, Fishman “considers his prosecutorial decisions very, very carefully and deliberately. And he is really religious about seeking input from many others in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Christie held Fishman’s position as the state’s top federal prosecutor from 2002 to 2008, before his first successful run for governor.
Another high-profile defense attorney, Miles Feinstein, praised Fishman as “a fair investigator” who “does what he thinks is right, and he doesn’t do things maliciously.”
Earlier this month, reports surfaced detailing an exchange of emails between Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and David Wildstein, who was appointed by the governor to the Port Authority, that show Kelly asked Wildstein to close the lanes as a political power play against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who didn’t endorse Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign.
At a press conference following the revelations, the governor told reporters he had “no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or execution” and had fired Kelly once he saw the news reports.
Kelly, who has been subpoenaed by a state legislative committee set up to look into the scandal, recently had to seek new counsel, according to press reports. Walter Timpone, a former prosecutor in charge of the corruption unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office, she he had to step aside as a result of his role on the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. Defense attorney Michael Critchley will replace Timpone, according to NJ.com.
A number of former prosecutors have been brought into the mix since the scandal broke. Christie brought in a legal team from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP’s to investigate the allegations. Former assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Mastro of the Southern District of New York has been picked to helm the effort. Mastro previously served as chief of staff deputy mayor to Rudy Giuliani, himself a former U.S. Attorney who has defended Christie.
Former assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, now a partner at Jenner & Block LLP, was tapped to become special counsel for a committee formed by the New Jersey General Assembly to review the incident. Schar led the prosecution team that brought down former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of corruption.