As The Nation’s Christie Watch will document in coming days and weeks, Governor Christie constructed nearly his entire political machine by assembling people he’d worked with—and in many cases, hired himself—during his years as aUS attorney in Newark (2002–08). That office, which launched several phantom investigations of two Democratic governors and one Democratic US senator, was one of the more political and politicized federal prosecutor’s offices in the United States.
Now, one of Christie’s former deputies at the US attorney’s office, Philip Kwon, who’s been caught up in controversy in the past himself, is a central player in Bridgegate, the lane closing scandal involving a decision by Christie aides to shut down two access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.
Kwon, it has been reported, spent four or five days counseling one of Bridgegate’s chief players, Bill Baroni, the Port Authority’s deputy executive director, when Baroni was preparing to testify before a New Jersey state legislative committee investigating the lane-closing affair last November. That’s important because Baroni, a close ally of Christie’s, told the legislators that the closings were due to a “traffic study” being conducted by the Port Authority, which manages the bridge. But if there was no traffic study—and by now it’s widely known that there wasn’t any such thing—then what did Kwon tell Baroni to say? Did he counsel him to lie? Was he unaware that there was no study underway? It’s something that the joint committee that’s now investigating Bridgegate is looking into, and in the second round of subpoenas that was issued last week, Kwon’s name was atop the list. (You can read the whole subpoena here, asking for all documents relating to “drafts or earlier versions of, comments on, or changes and edit to the statement read by William E. Baroni.”)
According to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the Kwon-Baroni consultations, one of the legislators leading the inquiry, State Senator Loretta Weinberg, wondered weeks ago about the Kwon-Baroni connection: “What concerns me is why the Port Authority or any member of the Port Authority staff, if the allegation is true, would have to spend four or five days preparing somebody who told this story that is obviously incorrect.”
Mary Jacobi, thepublisher and editor-in-chief of Main Justice, a publication that focuses on the Department of Justice, the attorney general and the ninety-four US attorney’s offices, has done yeoman’s work on “white collar crime, corruption and compliance.” On February 6, Jacobi compiled thumbnail profiles of Kwon and several other current and former Christie aides who’d served in Christie’s US attorney office between 2002 and 2008. According to her profile of Kwon, he was deputy chief of the criminal division under Christie. After Christie resigned as US attorney in 2008, Kwon became New Jersey’s first assistant attorney general. In 2012, Kwon was nominated to serve on New Jersey’s supreme court. But when that nomination was shot down—for reasons, both personal and political, that we shall see below—Kwon was shuffled over to be deputy general counsel at the Port Authority.