Two weeks ago, a local activist filed a complaint for two counts of official misconduct against New Jersey governor Chris Christie over the Bridgegate scandal. For two years, Christie has insisted that he had no advance or contemporaneous knowledge of the politically motivated act conducted by aides in his office as a means of retribution against the Fort Lee mayor for his lack of support. The trial of two of those aides has produced testimony that calls Christie’s denials into serious question.
How serious? A judge found probable cause in what might have otherwise been seen as a nuisance complaint, which could allow prosecutors to indict Christie. This video from two weeks ago from NBC’s New York affiliate covered the complaint at the time it was filed:
A judge has found probable cause for a complaint of official misconduct against Gov. Chris Christie related to the George Washington Bridge closure.
The case now goes to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which will determine if the case will lead to an indictment. …
It comes weeks after activist Bill Brennan filed a complaint of official misconduct in the second degree in late September. Brennan said he filed the complaint in part because the fallout of the 2013 lane closures cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The question now becomes whether prosecutors decide to move forward, and if so in what manner. They could file an indictment themselves or empanel a grand jury for a modicum of political cover. With this ruling, prosecutors might not feel the need for a grand jury, but given the high political drama surrounding the case, it might be a wise step anyway.
Three weeks ago, when the testimony began doing damage to Christie, some called the odds for impeachment at 50/50. Not much has been written since then, other than op-ed columns arguing for the legislature to act and others explaining why they may not. An indictment might not change things all that much, either. Legislators might wait to see what happens in court before taking the risk of acting precipitously, letting Bergen County prosecutors take the political risk instead. Or, if the passion for impeachment and removal runs strong, they could take an indictment as a triggering event for legislative action, but that risks being seen as encroaching on an criminal investigation.
The bigger question is this: If indicted, does Christie resign? Given his popularity at home and the prospect of defending himself in criminal court from the governor’s office, those odds may be 50/50 as well. Bergen County prosecutors have a lot to consider. Worth noting, via Politico: The Bergen County Prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal, was appointed for an interim period by Christie in January and got nominated for a full term by Christie again last month. If Grewal takes a pass, that might incite the legislature to act — but they could wait to test Grewal’s independence first.