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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/...
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Comment Preferences

  •  Not a lawyer, but (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Buckeye Nut Schell, Nailbanger, Losty

    The Port Authority is an interstate agency and of course the George Washington Bridge is an interstate bridge which is a main artery of NY-NJ interstate commerce.

    •  That was my thoughts as well... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sylv, Losty

      Considering that it hampered interstate commerce and caused irreparable harm to citizens seeking medical and emergency services all for political intimidation of an elected official... I think the federal justice system would definitely have grounds at least to investigate this matter further.

      However, I am not a lawyer and since the victims in this case are apparently not Republicans nor do they seem to be rich (and Christie is both...) actual laws that apply to Democrats and 99% of the population may not be applicable in this case.

      "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

      by Buckeye Nut Schell on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 06:13:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "honest services" only covers kickbacks and bribes (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tonymil, FG, VClib, OIL GUY

    see Skilling v US.

    http://www.law.cornell.edu/...

  •  Folder prosecute a republican? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    corvo, CenPhx, shmuelman, Losty, Sandino

    I will believe it when I see it. weed and whistle blowers are his specialties

    "Searches with nonspecific warrants were ‘the single immediate cause of the American Revolution.’” Justice Wm. Brennan, referring to the 4th Amendment

    by Nailbanger on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 06:58:44 PM PST

    •  That, and his boss (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      shmuelman

      seems to have had a soft spot for Christie.  Certainly didn't go out on a limb to support Buono . . .

      Dogs from the street can have all the desirable qualities that one could want from pet dogs. Most adopted stray dogs are usually humble and exceptionally faithful to their owners as if they are grateful for this kindness. -- H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej

      by corvo on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 07:15:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I researched this a little bit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sandino, rmx2630, tonymil

    I don't practice in federal court or New Jersey, but federally, it is a crime for anyone acting under “color of law” willfully to deprive or conspire to deprive a person of a right protected by the Constitution or U.S. law. “Color of law” simply means that the person is using authority given to him or her by a local, state, or federal government agency. The deprivation could be the restriction of the freedom of travel or violating the mayor's due process rights by extorting him for political favors.

    State crimes of "tampering with a witness" (during the coverup) see my comment here; or "Threats and other improper influence in official and political matters"; or possibly extortion, but I couldn't tell if that only applies when you get money or property, not an intangible benefit.

    I'm sure a federal prosecutor could rattle off a few statutes violated in this situation, but those are my best guesses.

    You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?” --George Bernard Shaw, JFK, RFK

    by CenPhx on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 07:46:18 PM PST

    •  I think the DoJ will tread very softly here (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Losty, tonymil

      Holder isn't going to allow the US Attorney to indict Christie on some novel legal theory and without several smoking guns. The DoJ will not want to be accused of acting in a partisan manner (I know Christie did when he was US Attorney). Unless they have an airtight case, based on a well used statute with a beaten path of prior cases, the DoJ won't touch this case. Plus Christie likely has allies in the NJ US Attorney's office, which will make the investigation difficult.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 09:40:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  So maybe there is more than one way for Christie, (0+ / 0-)

      or at least his deputy to be prosecuted. I hope this doesn't get treated as "too political" by DOJ.

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