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Chris Christie Stages Mock Trial of Hillary Clinton Despite Corruption Charges Dogging His Own Staff

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One of the most animated moments of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday night came during a speech by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was a finalist to be Donald Trump’s running mate. Christie staged a mock trial of Hillary Clinton. During his speech about Hillary Clinton, Republican delegates repeatedly broke into chants of “Lock her up!” But Christie is immersed in his own scandal. Five of the governor’s appointees have drawn the attention of federal prosecutors over corruption allegations. and one of his close allies has just pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges. After Christie’s speech, Hillary Clinton tweeted, “If you think Chris Christie can lecture anyone on ethics, we have a bridge to sell you.” We speak with Bob Hennelly, a political analyst and investigative reporter in New Jersey.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. We are “Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.” I’m Amy Goodman, as we broadcast from Cleveland, Ohio, covering the Republican National Convention inside and out, from the streets to the corporate suites to the convention floor.

It’s now official: Donald Trump has become the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party. Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., cast the votes for the New York delegation that put Trump over the top of the needed 1,237 delegates.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: It is my honor to be able to throw Donald Trump over the top in the delegate count tonight with 89 delegates, and another six for John Kasich. Congratulations, Dad! We love you!

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump is expected to officially accept the nomination Thursday night, but he briefly spoke to delegates via satellite from Trump Tower.

DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to bring back our jobs. We’re going to rebuild our depleted military and take care of our great veterans. We’re going to have strong borders. We’re going to get rid of ISIS. And we’re going to restore law and order. We have to restore, and quickly, law and order.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the most animated moments Tuesday night came during a speech by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was a finalist to be Donald Trump’s running mate. Governor Christie staged a mock trial of Hillary Clinton.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I’ve got another question for you: As to Hillary Clinton lying to the American people about her selfish, awful judgment in making our secrets vulnerable, what’s your verdict, guilty or not guilty?

DELEGATES: Guilty!

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Now, time—time after time after time, the facts, and just the facts, lead you to the same verdict, both around the world and here at home. In Libya and Nigeria, guilty. In China and Syria—

DELEGATES: Guilty!

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: In Iran and Russia and Cuba—

DELEGATES: Guilty!

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: And here at home, for risking America’s secrets to keep her own, and lying to cover it all up—

DELEGATES: Guilty!

AMY GOODMAN: During Governor Christie’s speech about Hillary Clinton, Republican delegates repeatedly broke into chants of “Lock her up!”

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: So, as to Hillary Clinton, the charge of putting herself ahead of America, guilty or not guilty?

DELEGATES: Guilty! … Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!

AMY GOODMAN: While delegates chanted “Lock her up!” and “Guilty!” governor and former prosecutor Chris Christie is immersed in his own scandal. Five of the governor’s appointees have drawn the attention of federal prosecutors over corruption allegations. One of his close allies has just pled guilty to federal bribery charges. After Governor Christie’s speech, Hillary Clinton tweeted, quote, “If you think Chris Christie can lecture to anyone on ethics, we have a bridge to sell you,” unquote.

Joining us now is Bob Hennelly, a political analyst, investigative reporter in New Jersey, regular contributor to Salon and City & State and WhoWhatWhy.

It’s good to see you.

BOB HENNELLY: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: I saw you last night at the convention, at the—at the Q, as they call it.

BOB HENNELLY: And you hadn’t been arrested yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Though had to deal with police as I was coming in—

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —as they were taking on CodePink protesters—I mean, hundreds of police, riot police, from a number of states—

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —because they had tennis balls. Tennis balls are not allowed in the area, but semiautomatic rifles are. But on the issue of what was happening inside, you come from New Jersey, Bob.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been covering Governor Christie and the scandal there. Talk about the significance of what he did last night, staging a mock trial of Hillary Clinton.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, I think, first, that they said make—they were going to—the agenda was “Make America Work Again,” and that is something certainly Americans want to hear, because it’s been very slow. These eight years have been disappointing for working people. And when he went into the ad hominem attack like that, it did take on the vibe—I was right at the New York and New Jersey delegation, at the foot of it—it felt like a lynch mob. It felt menacing. And one of the things that’s, of course, ironic is that Governor Christie is at the center of this huge Bridgegate scandal, which we’ve covered. And we, for instance, that—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain just very briefly for a global audience.

BOB HENNELLY: Oh, sure, of course. Well, back in 2013, on the eve of what looked to be a very easy re-election, some of his minions decided that they were going to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, a Democrat, for not endorsing Governor Christie. So, on the actual anniversary of September 11th, when tensions are pretty high—even, you know, around the George Washington Bridge, it’s considered a critical terrorism target, potentially—they closed the lanes, which created a traffic coronary for days. Ambulances had trouble. This was the first day of school for kids. It was traumatic. The governor said he didn’t know anything about it. It went on and on and on. Eventually, Bridget Kelly, who is his chief of staff, fell on the sword. And it turned out that there was enough information in emails, that the U.S. attorney was able to see, that this was a conspiracy among at least his close confidants, both inside the Port Authority and at the highest levels of the administration, to do something very petty with a very important asset on a very serious day.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what has come of that? Why did you end up writing this piece, “Chris Christie’s Week from Hell: Five of the Governor’s Appointees Have Drawn the Attention of Federal Prosecutors over Corruption Allegations”? We’re talking about this past week.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right. What we had originally, back last year, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, who was a high-ranking appointee in the Port Authority, a close confidant of Governor Christie, they were indicted. David Wildstein, another close confidant of Governor Christie, was in the Port Authority. He pled guilty, which set into motion the idea that you have someone now who’s making admissions to the government. Then, just last week, David Samson, who is a former attorney general, head of his transition team and one of the most powerful lawyers in New Jersey, pled guilty for, of all things, taking a bribe in the form of 27 flights on an airplane that United specially scheduled for him once a week, called the chairman’s flight, and he would control the agenda on behalf of United. And, of course, just for, you know, the cherry on the sundae, Jamie Fox, the transportation commissioner under Christie, was also charged. So, needless to say, for a U.S. attorney, which Chris Christie is—former—these were very strange developments. Plus he can’t find his cellphone, and he deleted texts in the process of all this. So, he has a serious exposure here, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the significance of where he stands? I’m going to see if we can go to a clip. I got a chance to see Governor Christie the first night, when he first came into the hall, embracing the delegates from the New Jersey delegation, and I only had one quick second to ask him a question, so this is what I asked him.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Christie, do you feel betrayed by Donald Trump?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: Not at all. I’m the chairman of his transition.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I asked him if he feels betrayed by Donald Trump. You know, all rumor had it that he was one of the finalists for vice president, vice-presidential nominee, running mate of Donald Trump. He didn’t get it. Tonight, Governor Pence will be formally nominated. And his answer was “No, I don’t feel betrayed. I’m the head of the transition team.” What is the transition team at this point?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, it’s like a talent scout. And I would say, for Donald Trump, with the odds—you know, we have Chris Christie has made five picks that were the attention of prosecutors. That may not be such a good idea for Donald Trump. It’s a consolation prize.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, do you think he’s vying for, for example, attorney general?

BOB HENNELLY: I think, certainly, when I went around the floor last night, that kind of spontaneously came up from delegates. The way that he did that performance art, it would seem so. Also, you know, being chief of staff is nothing to sneeze at. But, of course, the prerequisite for this would be that Donald Trump would have to win—I mean, for it to have any meaning.

AMY GOODMAN: And the relationship that they have, which he emphasized last night?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, I mean, I did—it’s funny. I did have an opportunity to talk to Donald Trump at one period. I was trying to get a response from him about the devastation in Atlantic City for small businesses. People forget he had these multiple corporate bankruptcies. And the way he cast in the election, Trump did, that this was something where banks took a haircut. Well, who doesn’t like that, of course? But in reality, I called ministers down, and I said, “Please, if you have congregants who were injured economically, please have them call me.” Well, Amy, I heard from florists, carpenters, carpet installers, who had all been ripped off by Donald Trump. I sent these comments, including the quotes from the clergy, to Donald Trump’s lawyer. Donald Trump did call me back. And his explanation was “They made money with me on the way up. They got clipped on the way down.”

And when I was speaking with him on background, of course, about Christie, I didn’t get the sense that there was this tremendous admiration for him. There was a kind of friendship. But remember, New Jersey is a basket case economically. We have the highest foreclosure rate. The state has not regained any of its jobs, at the rate even New York or anywhere else around the state. So it’s still in free fall.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, Donald Trump has a close relationship with the state of New Jersey.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s where his four bankruptcies took place, in Atlantic City.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right. And he was really the guy that was identified with the up years, when it came to casino gambling.

AMY GOODMAN: You have looked at Cleveland.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the group? The Economic Innovation Group says Cleveland is the most distressed big city in America.

BOB HENNELLY: Right. Well, this is actually true of all of urban America. One of the things we have to understand is that corporate media denies us the sense of our own circumstance about what’s happening. It’s important to know that the National Association of Counties—not a Marxist front group—says out of the 3,069 counties, Amy, only 7 percent have experienced a recovery. So that means this country is continuing to economically unravel. Two-point-five million homes, 6,000 of them here in Cleveland, that are empty and abandoned and continuing to lose value. So people in communities of color in Cleveland have seen an 80 percent destruction in their household wealth. That means that under the—President Obama, we’ve seen the largest level of African-American household wealth destruction in the history of the republic. And for whatever reason, the Democrats don’t want to mention it. Bernie Sanders didn’t want to mention it. But it’s still out there as a reality. In this city, not far from here, there are some areas where 50 percent of the children live below the poverty line. And Philadelphia is no picnic, either.

AMY GOODMAN: And lead poisoning, I mean, we talk about it in Flint, but here in Cleveland, this old city?

BOB HENNELLY: Across the country, we’ve really had an anti-urban policy. So, we did, in the ’60s and ’70s, deindustrialization. And now what you have here in Cleveland is, downtown, you do have a gentrification, an effort to concentrate some effort in turning it around, but this has not brought along the city.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to hear from some of the people—

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —in the streets who actually live here, some of the vendors who are trying to make some money while the Republican National Convention is here. Bob Hennelly, thanks so much for joining us—

BOB HENNELLY: Thank you, Amy

AMY GOODMAN: —political analyst, investigative reporter in New Jersey, regular contributor to Salon and City & State and WhoWhatWhy. We’ll link to his pieces. This is Democracy Now!, “Breaking with Convention.” Stay with us.

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