Supreme Court Unanimously Throws Out Bridgegate Convictions — And Rejects Prior Legal Arguments Against Trump

Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court today unanimously threw out the convictions of  Bridget Kelly, a former aide to Christie, and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority official, for their role in  “Bridgegate.” The dispute involved  the controversial closing of lanes on the George Washington Bridge to create traffic problems for the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., who had refused to endorse Christie.  Notably, the Court rejected the very arguments raised by some experts against Trump and relied on some of the same analysis that I raised in my testimony in the Trump impeachment against such claims.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court’s opinion on “the question presented [of] whether the defendants committed property fraud.” She found “The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing — deception, corruption, abuse of power. But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct. Under settled precedent, the officials could violate those laws only if an object of their dishonesty was to obtain the Port Authority’s money or property.”

The Court observed:

“That requirement, this Court has made clear, prevents these statutes from criminalizing all acts of dishonesty by state and local officials. Some decades ago, courts of appeals often construed the federal fraud laws to “proscribe[] schemes to defraud citizens of their intangible rights to honest and impartial government.” McNally, 483 U. S., at 355. This Court declined to go along. The fraud statutes, we held in McNally, were “limited in scope to the protection of property rights.” Id., at 360. They did not authorize federal prosecutors to “set[] standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials.” Ibid.”

That is the argument that I raised in the impeachment against the proposed articles of impeachment — supported by a host of experts on MSNBC and CNN as well as Democratic members — that the Ukrainian allegations could be charged as mail and wire fraud as well as crimes like extortion.

For example, on the Hobbs Act I noted:

“Blackstone described a broad definition of extortion in early English law as “an abuse of public, justice which consists in an officer’s unlawfully taking, by colour of his office, from any man, any money or thing of value, that is not due him, or more than is due, or before it is due.” The use of anything “of value” today would be instantly rejected. Extortion cases involve tangible property, not possible political advantage.90 In this case, Trump asked for cooperation with the Justice Department in its investigation into the origins of the FBI investigation on the 2016 election. As noted before, that would make a poor basis for any criminal or impeachment theory. The Biden investigation may have tangible political benefits, but it is not a form of property. Indeed, Trump did not know when such an investigation would be completed or what it might find. Thus, the request was for an investigation that might not even benefit Trump.”

Similar arguments were made by experts that Trump clearly could be charged with wire or mail fraud for controversies ranging from the Trump Tower allegations to the Ukrainian allegations.  The shared element is the treatment of political advantage as a thing of value (or akin to property) to support claims under the Hobbs Act, extortion provisions, wire and wire fraud provisions, election fraud provisions and other criminal provisions.

None of this matters.  The media is unlikely to note that these theories were proven not just wrong but rejected unanimously by the Court.  The experts have just moved on to new exaggerated or opportunistic claims under the criminal code.  There remains a detachment in coverage from the criminal code. The media remains a bottomless pit for such theories so long as they suggest that Trump or his associates could be criminally charged or impeached.  What is most striking is that such rulings receive no coverage in what they say about prior discredited theories.  Legal analysis seems entirely untethered to legal authority in this age of rage.

Here is the opinion: Kelly v. United States

Update:  I note that a column at Volokh Conspiracy by Ilya Somin disagrees with my view as well as Josh Blackman’s view under the title No The Supreme Court’s “Bridgegate” Decision Doesn’t Vindicate Trump on Impeachment. The problem is that Somin does not address my specific point and I did not say that the case alone vindicated Trump on impeachment. What I argued was that the case contradicted a critical argument used by experts to allege criminal acts as well as some impeachable offenses.  I argued in the impeachment that criminal allegations raised by various experts sought to treat political advantage as a thing of value while courts had been consistent in adopting more narrow views of property, as the Supreme Court just did.

Indeed Somin simply repeated argued that impeachment is not a criminal proceeding, a common mantra during the impeachment.  As I testified, impeachment have historically looked to the criminal code and case law:

“While all three acts in the impeachment standard refer to criminal acts in modern parlance, it is clear that “high crimes and misdemeanors” can encompass non-criminal conduct. It is also true that Congress has always looked to the criminal code in the fashioning of articles of impeachment. The reason is obvious. Criminal allegations not only represent the most serious forms of conduct under our laws, but they also offer an objective source for measuring and proving such conduct. We have never had a presidential impeachment proceed solely or primarily on an abuse of power allegation, though such allegations have been raised in the context of violations of federal or criminal law.”

In that testimony I opposed the position of my fellow witnesses that the definition of actual crimes is immaterial to their use as the basis for impeachment — and I specifically opposed impeachment articles based on bribery, extortion, campaign finance violations or obstruction of justice. The committee ultimately rejected those articles and adopted the only two articles I felt could be legitimately advanced: abuse of power, obstruction of Congress. Chairman Jerrold Nadler even ended the hearing by quoting my position on abuse of power. Our only disagreement was that I opposed impeachment on this record as incomplete and insufficient for submission to the Senate.

Now back to this posting referenced by Somin, the connection to the impeachment is that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the narrow interpretation of the common element of the benefit sought from fraud or extortion or other crimes.  It is easy to say that “all is fair in war and impeachments” but Congress has never adopted such a cavalier approach.  Indeed, while dismissing that actual legal definitions and interpretations are controlling, the Democrats and their witnesses repeatedly tried to defend the proposed (and largely rejected) articles of impeachment by referring to such case law at various points in the hearing.  It is easy to just end such legal arguments by asserting “impeachment can be justified even in cases of abuse of power where no specific law has been violated.” Legal definitions and case law have always been the touchstone of impeachments precisely to avoid an “everything goes” approach.  Thus, while I testified such cases were not controlling (and I testified that abuse of power could be a viable impeachment article if proven against Trump), I strongly argued against the effort to decouple such legal authority from the impeachment analysis.

Finally, as I noted earlier, my point is not that this one case “vindicates” Trump. It vindicates the argument on this one, albeit important, element in the analysis used by experts to claim criminal acts by Trump.  Experts have engaged in sweeping and poorly supported arguments that criminal acts were established by various investigations, including but not limited to the impeachment hearing.  The linchpin is often a broad interpretation of this element that has, once again, been given a narrow interpretation by the Court.

61 thoughts on “Supreme Court Unanimously Throws Out Bridgegate Convictions — And Rejects Prior Legal Arguments Against Trump”

  1. Important ruling. It is worth to note, that, the mental and factual elements are consistent with fraud. Yet, what the court has asserted is that, I quote:

    ” …….a property fraud conviction cannot stand when the loss to the victim is only an incidental byproduct of the scheme”

    So, fraud, yet, byproduct. But,In criminal terms, it is like, prevailing or acquitting, just because of the fact, that, the offender, didn’t wish ( truly so ) the result, but, the result itself, could be predicted ( reasonably so) in advance ( and the court agrees with it ).

    With all due respect, the court, has provided not legal/ and textual explanation, but rather, explanation or reasoning, has to do with legal or public policy, I quote:

    ” To rule otherwise would undercut this Court’s oftrepeated instruction: Federal prosecutors may not use property fraud statutes to “set[] standards of disclosure and good government for local and state officials.” McNally, 483 U. S., at 360; see supra, at 7. Much of governance involves (as it did here) regulatory choice. If U. S. Attorneys could prosecute as property fraud every lie a state or local official tells in making such a decision, the result would be—as Cleveland recognized—“a sweeping expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction.” 531 U. S., at 24. And if those prosecutors could end-run Cleveland just by pointing to the regulation’s incidental costs, the same ballooning of federal power would follow. In effect, the Federal Government could use the criminal law to enforce (its view of ) integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking. The property fraud statutes do not countenance that outcome. They do not “proscribe[] schemes to defraud citizens of their intangible rights to honest and impartial government.” McNally, 483 U. S., at 355; see supra, at 7. They bar only schemes for obtaining property”

    And the impeachment, has nothing to do here with all due respect. For, Trump couldn’t exercise extortion on a sovereign state. The victim, at first place,couldn’t be no one, but the American tax payer. So, how extortion ? Trump could only, in the best case, hold and delay the aid to Ukraine, but, the money was at first place, the money of the tax payer. Not of the Ukrainian president, neither its government.

    Thanks

    1. Corollaries and unintended consequences as pain, suffering, anxiety, depression, hypertension, heart attacks, strokes, auto collisions, assault, domestic violence, etc.

      1. No, but rather substantial consequences ( defined as the factual and mental elements, prescribed by the law) . It is like, to hit a person, with heavy iron, on his head, and to claim ( in retrospect) that you didn’t want to kill him, but, to teach him a lesson. To make him suffering and paying for his wrongdoing. Yet, the outcome, of dying out of such harsh strikes, is clearly:

        Predictable, expected, natural outcome, reasonably can and should occur. Or, even battery. The person, hitting, would claim, that he didn’t want to cause him severe battery, but, in criminal law, it wouldn’t do.For a person, must be aware, not closing his eyes, to the predictable and natural consequences.

        So, as if, the person hitting, would be acquitted , because, he didn’t mean, or, didn’t put as main objective, to cause death, battery, severe injury, etc…. but , to teach him lesson. Could we claim, that, death or severe injury, is the byproduct ? Side effect ? This is the problem or the issue here.

        Thanks

  2. Dang, Prof. Turley! I think you are finally waking up. Fully. Because you said:
    ———-
    None of this matters. The media is unlikely to note that these theories were proven not just wrong but rejected unanimously by the Court. The experts have just moved on to new exaggerated or opportunistic claims under the criminal code. [] The media remains a bottomless pit for such theories so long as they suggest that Trump or his associates could be criminally charged or impeached. [] Legal analysis seems entirely untethered to legal authority in this age of rage.
    —————
    Amen. The Democrats and their Media Propaganda arm will say anything to get and stay in power.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. “The press is our chief ideological weapon.”

      – Nikita Khrushchev

  3. AP reporting that Justice is dropping the criminal case against General Flynn.

    If true, congratulations to super lawyer Sydney Powell!

      1. Meanwhile, the shills here like bytheDNCscript and Seth Warner/Peter Shill and Bad Anonymous are busy getting their talking points from the DNC.

        I predict you will be hearing, “But Flynn pled guilty and why would he do that if he wasn’t guilty?” a whole lot from them. They will rely on most people not working in the legal field and knowing that people plead guilty all the time to save money, and to get a good deal. And like with Flynn, to protect their family.

        But this is a major defeat for them, and it reveals a lot about the Obama administration and the crooks at DOJ and FBI.

        Squeeky Fromm
        Girl Reporter

        1. They’re full of it and they know it and we know it. No one here falls for their sophistry.

          This is a huge defeat for the never-Trumpers. The cherry on the cake will be when Trump rehires Flynn. That’s how you put it in their face.

    1. Congratulations to the truth.

      Total exoneration and expungement for Roger Stone.

      Prison for Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller’s Gestapo, the Deep Deep State traitors and the Obama Coup D’etat co-conspirators.

    2. What does that say about Flynn’s first lawyers. Did Holder have an involvement with that law firm?

      1. The cancer that is Obama has metastasized!

        The onset tumor was the constitutional requirement that the president be a “natural born citizen.”

        From that, the carcinogen metastasized globally.

        Only an obscure and perverse personality suffering Malicious Parent Syndrome” and shrouded in foreign allegiances conjured by

        “Dreams From My Father” could harbor a compulsion to begin “…fundamentally transforming the United States.”

  4. Wait. I thought only President Trump was petty, puerile and narcissistic. New Jersey and the Supreme Court are reasonable facsimiles. How does this kindergarten tomfoolery compare to the destruction of economies around the world, the decimation of a plurality of global investments, the induction of pain and suffering by 5 million people and the massacre of 300,000 souls, thus far?

    China is as communist as the original version in the USSR. As taught by Sun Tzu in the Art of War, China deceived free nations into trust, dependence and debt, and then buried them, in an election year with the coup de grâce, COVID-19. America had the Soviets “…feeding you small doses of socialism.” Now America wakes up to “…find that you already have communism.” Communists in America “COLLUDED” with the communists in China to create a crisis to take full advantage of per Rahm Emanuel.

    Given ubiquitous insolvent state and federal budgets, nullification of constitutional rights and “orders” by government dictators, America is now officially communist.
    _____________________

    “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we hang them.”

    – Vladimir Ilich Lenin
    ____________________________________

    “Whether you like it or not. history is on our side. We will bury you!”

    ― Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
    ____________________________________________________________

    “You Americans are so gullible. No, you won’t accept communism outright, but we’ll keep feeding you small doses of socialism until you’ll finally wake up and find you already have communism. We won’t have to fight you. We’ll so weaken your economy until you’ll fall like overripe fruit into our hands.”

    – Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
    ___________________________________________________________

    “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

    – Rahm Emanuel

    1. “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.”

      – Anonymous
      ___________

      “And the band played on.”

      – Anonymous
      ___________

      “With the band playing and the lights of the sinking ship still burning, the doomed company awaited the end. They died like heroes, they died like men”.

      – Henry Van Dyke, Princeton University.

  5. Didn’t Sandra Fluke graduate from the Georgetown law school. The year she graduated the typical grad starting salary was something like $185,00.00 a year. If I remember right didn’t these contraceptives cost something like $9.00 a month. Talk about a cheapskate. Just another liberal witch trying to impose her will on someone else who has differing views.

  6. More fluff and stuff. The SCOTUS did NOT approve of this conduct–it merely held that federal fraud statutes did not provide citizens a remedy for this conduct, under this set of facts, unless the criminal behavior resulted in taking of Port Authority property. Christie intentionally blocked traffic lanes, causing a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to get even with a Ft. Lee politician who didn’t support him. This resulted not only in inconvenience to motorists, but ambulances were unable to get to people who needed emergency treatment. But, it is not a federal crime.Turley seems to be implying that Christie and Trump did nothing wrong. That’s not what the SCOTUS is saying at all, and Turley does know better. Turley always has to throw in the “see I was right” sort of comment, plus criticism for MSNBC and CNN. How sad.

    1. Natacha, lol, expert only at second guessing and insulting Turley everyday

      she puts words in Turley’s mouth he did not say, and then attacks that, since there’s really nothing genuine to dispute

      1. How sad that Natacha will likely never have the opportunity to say, “see I was right,” bless her heart.

    1. Gordon Liddy ran an operation to spy on people (making use of burglary and wiretapping as tools). Burglary and wiretapping are crimes.

      He is, by the way, still alive. He evidently owns three homes, so would be laughing from a room in one of them. His primary residence is in Prince George’s County, Md. He recently lost his wife, so he likely isn’t doing much laughing right at the moment. He has five children, 12 grandchildren, but evidently no great-grandchildren yet. Even people who’ve committed crimes and have creepy social and political views can have a talent for living.

      1. I listened to his show for years. I never thought he had creepy social or political views. He deeply influenced me. But then again perhaps I too have questionable social and political views. But for me, he was an inspiration. Folks, read his fantastic book, “Will”

        https://www.amazon.com/Will-Autobiography-G-Gordon-Liddy/dp/0312924127

        Gmen from the earlier, better days make slithering earslings like Sztroke from the Comey era of FBI look like sissified turds

        1. Kurtz, I’ve personally met Comey era gmen, at least one of whom hung out the club until 3 am with murderers several nights a week, and then went home to sleep with his wife and kids. I don’t think he slithered there.

          1. PS For well over a year he posed as an out town wise guy and hopefully they didn’t bump into him in town or ask him to do something felonious.

            1. If they did something felonious and he was a Comey man I would not be surprised if most of the felonies were his idea.

            2. undercover operations were latecoming tools in the FBI arsenal. that is an interesting history and I wont bore you with the details. I do will admit they are necessary tools in the law enforcement repertoire of tactics, but they can be easily abused. likewise the use of informants.

              Comey is viewed as an FBI chieftan that pushed the use of undercovers and informants to new controversial levels.

              https://theintercept.com/2017/05/17/dont-lionize-james-comey-the-fbi-did-some-terrible-things-under-him/

  7. So a deliberate lane closing with the purpose of a massive traffic jam is legal as long as the perpetrators do it for political advantage, but don’t do it for money, is legal, even if it keeps ambulances from getting through, kids from getting to school, and workers from their jobs. Got it.

    1. some wrongs by public servants are best rectified by voters, not long criminal investigations under dubious interpretations of the statutes.

    2. Glad the entirety of SCOTUS could clear that up for you.

  8. Lefties have complaints of unfairness in the system but can’t seem to separate their ideas of unfairness from the law. What they should be doing is advocating for different laws but that might create a problem for them when they break those laws.

    Thus we have Professor Turley’s explanation which is fair and bsaed on the rule of law but they get angry at him not for his position of upholding the law but for the professor not agreeing to their ideas of fairness.

    1. Someone contemplating the life and career of Sandra Fluke offered a definition of feminism: “an open mouth saying ‘I want'”. That’s actually a problem over the whole spectrum of liberal discourse.

      1. “an open mouth saying ‘I want’”

        DSS, Isn’t that the same as an extended open hand palm up?

        1. What Fluke wanted was for the Jesuit Order to pay for her contraceptives. It was never about the money.

  9. You read a capsule biography of Bridget Kelly and it leaves you shakin’ your damned head. This was a woman who had a terribly busy (but engaging and rich) life and managed to throw it all away in the course of a year or so by doing a series of viciously stupid things, this caper not the most salient among them. She brought it on herself, but it would be agreeable if she could get back on her feet now.

  10. Professor– Thank you for such a crystal clear comment. It was a pleasure to read.

  11. Nice to see a unanimous verdict on this case. I always thought it was dirty tricks but not illegal.

Comments are closed.