Lawyers cite Nixon in seeking Gov. Christie's phone records

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Lawyers seeking Republican Gov. Chris Christie's cellphone records from the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case are invoking Watergate to argue their subpoena for the information is justified.

In filings late Monday opposing an attempt to block a request for the records, the attorneys for two indicted former Christie allies also repeated accusations that the law firm representing Christie's office has deliberately refused to turn over documents it is obligated to produce and ignored potentially damaging evidence.

The attorneys represent indicted former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni and former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly, who face wire fraud, civil rights and other charges and are scheduled for trial in September.

They argue the Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher law firm must turn over communications Christie made during the September 2013 lane closures and text messages he sent to a staffer during Baroni's testimony to a legislative committee in 2013.

The request satisfies the standard set by the Supreme Court in ordering Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes — that there is a "sufficient likelihood" based on "rational inferences" the materials will lead to relevant and admissible evidence, they wrote.

"President Nixon's tapes were not immune from a subpoena. Neither is Governor Christie's phone," Baroni's attorney, Michael Baldassare, wrote.

The text messages are crucial, Baldassare wrote, because Baroni is accused of concocting a story for the committee about the lane closures being part of a traffic study to cover up their actual intent: to punish a local mayor for not endorsing Christie.

Christie hasn't been charged and was absolved of wrongdoing by a 2014 report by the Gibson Dunn firm, which has billed the state more than $10 million for representing Christie's office in the matter. The report was criticized for not including interviews with any of those charged or with any employees of the Port Authority, including former official David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty last year.

Christie said last month he gave his phone to the government two years ago and wasn't sure who has it now.

On Tuesday, a U.S. attorney's office spokesman said federal authorities never possessed the phone.

"As is typical in grand jury investigations, where an institution is represented by outside counsel, those lawyers review records, including those contained on mobile phones and computers, to identify and provide material that is responsive to subpoenas," spokesman Matthew Reilly wrote in an email. "That procedure was followed in this case."

Randy Mastro, the lead attorney representing Christie for Gibson Dunn, didn't respond to an email Tuesday about the phone's whereabouts.

"The location of that device — and those of his senior staff — remains a closely guarded secret," Baldassare wrote Monday.

Attorney Michael Critchley, representing Kelly, accused Gibson Dunn of "doing nothing" to investigate Christie's text exchanges.

"GDC's apparent blind spot for damaging information concerning Governor Christie and his senior staff (except, of course, Ms. Kelly) is hardly surprising because holding others to the same standard as Ms. Kelly would have been disastrous to GDC's propaganda campaign," Critchley wrote.

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This story has been corrected to show Christie, not the law firm, said the government had his phone.

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