In a 9-0 decision the Supreme Court vacated the fraud convictions of the New Jersey Bridgegate conspirators for causing a four-day traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for refusing to endorse Chris Christie's bid for re-election.

Naturally, Herr Dumpenntweet was on the case.

Perhaps Chris Christie would have preferred a less hearty ATTABOY. Because while the jury verdict was overturned, there is literally no debate as to who did "evil things" here. The defendants Bridget Anne Kelly and William Baroni, officials in Christie's administration, cooked up a phony traffic study on the bridge and executed it in a way designed to do the most harm to the greatest number of drivers. They deliberately kept it secret, refusing to warn police and hospitals in advance, for maximal damage.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly emailed co-defendant David Wildenstein in August 2013. Speaking of "evil things."

And it worked, snarling traffic for days, slowing down 911 response time, and forcing at least one ambulance crew out of their vehicle to travel on foot to a call. Christie officials, including Kelly, ignored emails from Fort Lee warning that emergency services had been delayed responding to a heart attack and a missing child. Which is pretty damn evil!

When the mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, texted Baroni that he couldn't get kids to school, begging, "Help please. It's maddening," Kelly texted Wildenstein, "Is it wrong that I am smiling?"

"I feel badly about the kids. I guess," said Kelly, a mother of four. Wildenstein responded, "They are the children of Buono voters," by which he meant Barbara Buono, Christie's Democratic opponent in the upcoming November election.

See? EVIL.

The federal fraud statute under which they were charged requires theft of government services for personal benefit, not just political benefit, but that doesn't mean they didn't do it, or that it wasn't manifestly an "evil thing," as the unanimous opinion penned by Justice Kagan makes entirely clear.

The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud. 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 government took a flyer, hoping that the personal benefit of getting in good with their boss Christie, who reaped the political benefit of showing what happened to anyone who dared to cross him, was close enough to satisfy the statute's language. Clearly, it wasn't.

Which is probably the right decision, since this is settled law. But that doesn't meant that the defendants didn't do it.

Christ Christie blamed the Bridgegate case for tanking his presidential aspirations. As if the convictions of his senior staff, rather than deliberately harming his own constituents, was the real problem. Staff he fired in an attempt to deflect blame, although testimony revealed he was well aware of their scheming.

Wildenstein testified that, at a September 11 commemoration event while traffic was still snarled, Baroni joked, "Governor, there is a tremendous amount of traffic in Fort Lee, please know Mayor Sokolich is frustrated he can't get his calls returned."

"I imagine they wouldn't be getting their calls returned." Christie is reported to have laughed, adding later, "Well, I'm sure Mr. Edge wouldn't be involved in anything political." "Wally Edge" was Wildstein's nom de blog, back when he was just a Republican shitposter. HAW HAW.

In the end, the law didn't have a name for what these people did. Their gross malfeasance didn't fit neatly into the "fraud" basket, and it's probably appropriate that the convictions were overturned. But as for "evil things," Christie and his minions seem to have cornered the market. And this decision overturns the convictions, but it does nothing to change that.

[Kelly v. US]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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