It's very clear now that the New Jersey closure of traffic lanes for the Washington Bridge was political retribution and not because of some "traffic study". It is also clear that the retribution came from Governor Chris Christie's inner circle and very likely came from the Governor himself. What I'm curious to know is whether what Christie did is a federal crime and whether the Justice Department should be investigating. More after the jump.
There is a federal statute which makes it a crime to use mail or wire communications in support of a scheme to deprive someone of "honest services". Specifically, 18 USC section 341 makes it a crime to use mail or wire communication in support of
any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises.That section is modified by section 1346 which states that
the term “scheme or artifice to defraud” includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.This statute was successfully used against NY Senator Joseph Bruno for money and other benefits he received from political donors. In exchange for the goodies he received, Bruno made sure that legislation they sought was passed. That conviction was overturned though when the Supreme Court limited the "honest services" provision to actual bribes and kickbacks. The charges against Bruno were worded more broadly than that. However, the Justice Dept. has been approved to seek a retrial of Bruno on charges limited to bribes and kickbacks.
So, the question for the Justice Department, is whether Chris Christie's reverse kickback, that is, a punishment inflicted on someone who didn't do him a political favor, rather than a reward paid to someone who did, qualifies under the statute. The Joe Bruno case is my only familiarity with this federal law and it would be great if there are some of you more familiar and who might know whether this has been attempted either successfully or otherwise. Oh how I would love to see Chris Christie under federal indictment.
EDIT: There this from Northjersey.com this morning:
Interfering with interstate commerce – and playing God with the GWB is doing just that – warrants a federal criminal investigation. In addition to a federal probe, a state probe is needed. Because New Jersey's attorney general is a Christie pick, New York should take the lead in that investigation. - See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/...