Christie’s Henchmen Lawyer Up

The Chris Christie/Ft. Lee/George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal is now moving a warp speed. Now we’ve taken what may be the fatal next step, from “overblown,” “mistakes were made,” and “turning the page” – all markers of a simple scandal – to the point where the people directly implicated decide whether to save their own skins by selling out their bosses.

The Wall Street Journal reports that both David Wildstein and Bill Baroni have now “lawyered up.” If you’re Christie, that’s bad. The Journal also reports that they’ve both hired criminal defense lawyers. If you’re Christie, that’s worse.

Wildstein’s lawyer’s previous clients include Sharpe James, the appallingly corrupt Mayor of Newark replaced by Cory Booker, who wound up spending 18 months in a federal penitentiary. If you’re Christie, that’s just awful; Wildstein didn’t hire a top corruption-defense lawyer just to advise him on how to respond to subpoenas. He clearly thinks he’s in deep doo-doo, and probably in deep Federal doo-doo at that.

But the worst news – if you’re Christie – is that Baroni’s lawyer is a former Assistrant U.S. Attorney in New Jersey named Michael Himmel.

In 2009, Mr. Himmel also represented Solomon Dwek, a former real estate investor who pleaded guilty to bank fraud and money laundering charges. Mr. Dwek became an FBI informant in a case brought by Mr. Christie that implicated dozens of elected officials in a widespread corruption investigation.

So not only does Baroni think he needs serious criminal defense, he’s hired someone with a history of making deals in which his client gets a break in return for implicating everyone else in sight. (The technical term is “cooperation.”) And the only person above Baroni in the pecking order – the only one Baroni can hope to save himself by snitching on – is Gov. Soprano himself.

Now, it’s possible I’m being too optimistic about this. Perhaps Himmel is a Christie loyalist, who will be working to protect his ex-boss as well as his nominal client. But on the surface, this looks about as bad for Christie – which is to say, about as good for the future of the American Republic – as it possibly could.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.