New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie could face criminal prosecution over the George Washington Bridge lane closures if it is found anyone was harmed because of them, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz says.
Appearing Thursday on CNN, Dershowitz singled out the case of the 91-year-old woman who died after emergency personnel were slowed in reaching her because of the September lane closures. If it is shown the woman would have lived if help had arrived sooner, Christie could be charged because of "willful negligence," he said.
Christie apologized in a press conference earlier Thursday after it was revealed that two of his aides had orchestrated lane closures on the bridge leading from Fort Lee, N.J., into New York City. Text messages between the two indicated the closures were intended as political punishment for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie in his re-election bid.
Though Christie has denied knowing about the action before Wednesday, critics charge the governor set a climate that would have led the aides to think he would approve. The New York Times ran a story in December on examples of people who believed Christie had taken revenge on them.
It is for that reason, Dershowitz argued on CNN, that if Christie is charged he should be tried in New York so he would not be able to take revenge on New Jersey judges and prosecutors.
"Clearly the people who originated the traffic jams and approved them are guilty and probably guilty of crimes," Dershowitz said. "Their actions led directly to very significant harms, particularly if they can demonstrate that the woman died as a result of the traffic jam."
Christie fired deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, who exchanged messages with former Port Authority official David Wildstein over closing the lanes that backed up traffic for four days.
But Kelly and Wildstein could decide to make a deal with prosecutors to implicate Christie, Dershowitz said, even if there was only a hint that the governor created an "atmosphere" that led them to believe he would back their actions.
"There is a concept known as willful blindness," Dershowitz said. "It depends on the evidence and whether the two people he fired decide to get revenge and say, 'Wait a minute, we are not taking the fall for this whole thing.'"