White-Collar Crime

Chris Christie And The Toaster

For a guy who hasn’t done much in the last few weeks but go to Vegas, Chris Christie’s past and future has gotten a lot of attention this week.

Ryan Lizza has a long piece in the New Yorker about Christie that is not terribly dissimilar in conclusion than Joe Patrice’s prior Christie observations on these pages. Lizza’s piece starts with a description of a roast of Lat’s former boss, where, among other zingers,

a New Jersey judge turned comedian, noted, “It really is an honor to be standing next to what could be the next President of the—.” He shuffled some papers on the lectern. “I’m sorry, these are the wrong notes. I’m doing a roast next week with Jeb Bush.”

Ouch.

More damning, though, and more relevant to this column, is Jeff Smith’s piece over at Politico – “Chris Christie is Toast.” (incidentally, Joy Behar makes the same bread-based observation about Christie in Lizza’s piece).

Jeff Smith is an interesting guy to write that article. The former Wunderkind of Missouri Democratic politics was brought down by a federal investigation into campaign finance problems that ultimately landed him in a federal prison.

So, why might one think that Christie is toast?

Christie is toast – according to Smith – because the feds are after him, and they are relentless.

Of course, Gibson Dunn issued a report, commissioned by Christie, that concluded that the Bridgegate problem was largely because of Bridget Kelly, a former Christie aid who has a personal life that is not totally uninteresting, and not because of the Governor of New Jersey.

The downside to personally attacking a person who has intimate knowledge of what happened with something that is the subject of a federal investigation is that, of course, you’ve now made someone angry who has intimate knowledge of what happened with something that is the subject of a federal investigation.

As the New Yorker reported,

There have been reports that Kelly is seeking immunity from prosecution in order to coöperate with Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, whose staff is looking into the scandal. It looks like [former Port Authority official David] Wildstein is already singing to the Feds. An article on the Web site Main Justice says he spent much of last week “camped” at Fishman’s office, talking to investigators.

What’s interesting about all of this, of course, is that Christie is still trying to pursue his political future. Once you start humming “Hail to the Chief” while you’re shaving in the morning, it gets hard to stop.

This is where Smith’s piece raises an interesting point. As he writes,

As I know all too well, having gone to prison for charges related to campaign finance violations, years can elapse between the time federal agencies first begin probing a target and the time they actually bring charges, and the deliberate, exhaustive nature of federal investigations is legend. (To take one example, when I reported for my post-conviction interview with agents, they knew the dates I had visited a casino and amounts of money I had withdrawn from an ATM a decade earlier, despite this being totally unrelated to the investigation.)

Clients of mine are often stunned at how much the federal government knows about them when an investigation is concluded. While getting a wiretap up on someone’s phone can be enough of a pain that it doesn’t happen with Stasi-like frequency (But see, of course, the Raj Rajaratnam wiretaps), federal agents do a very aggressive and thorough job and often come up with Stasi-like detailed knowledge about a person.

Of course, all of that takes a massive amount of time.

The statute of limitations for most federal crimes is five years, and the federal government will sometimes take all of that time before they bring a case. Five years is a lot of time to learn what happened.

That doesn’t mean that everyone who is investigated is indicted – far from it. But while the federal law enforcement machinery does its slow march of investigation, Chris Christie will try to continue to have a political future. And any success he has in Vegas will likely mean little for his legal future.

Crossing Christie [The New Yorker]
Chris Christie Is Toast [Politico]
The Idealist [New Republic]
Christie Report Finds A Culprit: A Scorned, ‘Emotional’ Woman [Huffington Post]
Joy Behar Is Right: Chris Christie Is “Toast” [The New Yorker]
Listen To The Raj Rajaratnam Wiretaps [Business Insider]

Earlier: Governor Chris Christie Did What We All Should Have Expected From An Old Prosecutor
In Defense Of Chris Christie
Judge Facing Ethics Challenge Because He’s Also a Stand-Up Comedian


Matt Kaiser is a partner at The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a boutique litigation firm in Washington DC, which handles government investigations, white-collar criminal cases, federal criminal appeals, and complex civil litigation. You can reach him by email at mattkaiser@thekaiserlawfirm, and you can follow him on Twitter: @mattkaiser.

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