If aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie orchestrated a traffic jam as a reprisal against a political foe, the potential legal consequences could be serious, the Wall Street Journal reports. The U.S. Attorney in New Jersey started an investigation into whether lane closures on the George Washington bridge violated federal law. One official, David Wildstein, who resigned in December, refused to testify at a legislative hearing yesterday. The political conniving suggested in email exchanges over the episode could lead to ethics fines and civil penalties. The ordered lane closures, which delayed emergency vehicles, could be a criminal offense.
Christie apologized and fired his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, who he said lied to him about having knowledge of the matter. “I am stunned by the abject stupidity,” Christie said. The federal honest services fraud law, narrowed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, requires evidence of bribes or kickbacks, which don’t appear to be at issue here. Obstruction-of-justice inquiries can spring from political scandals and cover-ups. State law could prove more useful for prosecutors. In New Jersey, a public servant can be convicted of official misconduct for a breach of a prescribed duty with the intention of “injuring or depriving” another person of a benefit. Official misconduct is a second-degree offense that can carry a prison sentence of five to 10 years.