Two conspirators in the Bridgegate scandal have been indicted on charges related to the New Jersey bridge closure, following a plea deal reached by a third aide pleaded guilty to conspiracy on Friday. The indictment names Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni as conspirators in the intentional creation of a politically motivated traffic mess on the George Washington Bridge in 2013. A federal grand jury charged former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni with nine criminal counts, which include conspiracy and fraud.
The two Christie aides face these charges after Port Authority appointee David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to one change of conspiracy to commit fraud on federally funded property and one civil rights violation. Wildstein admitted to using the “traffic study” to cover up the lane closure and choosing the first day of school to increase the chokehold created by the situation. Three local access lanes were reduced to one for five days starting on Sept. 9, 2013 leading to traffic backups that lasted for hours in the Fort Lee area leading to delayed necessary emergency response.
He also admitted to not alerting the Fort Lee Mayor or chief of police and admitted to knowingly keeping silent with local officials on the issue. The Bridgegate investigation has continued to focus on Christie who appointed Wildstein to his position at the Port Authority. Prosecutors questioned Christie over the Bridgegate scandal last year. Wildstein is scheduled to be sentenced this summer but remains unclear how much time he will face. Wildstein cooperated with the exhaustive investigation and reached a plea deal last January. In his plea, Wildstein implicated both Kelly and Baroni in the scheme, admitting they conspired together to punish the Fort Lee mayor.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced the indictments alleging Kelly and Baroni were engaged in a “political vendetta” against Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, to punish him for not endorsing Christie, a Republican, in his 2013 re-election bid. News outlets released email exchanges between Wildstein and Kelly showing the conspiracy to shutting down the bridge. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote. A few weeks later, on the weekend before the lane closures, Wildstein wrote to her: “I will call you Monday AM to let you know how Fort Lee goes.”
NBC 4 New York released text messages showing an unknown person texting Wildstein about the Fort Lee Mayor asking for help on the second day of the closure. “Is it wrong that I am smiling?” He texted back: “No.” The unknown person texted saying he felt bad for children not being able to attend school because of traffic. Wildstein messaged back saying “They are the children of Buono voters.” Buono was Gov. Christie’s 2013 opponent for governor. A legislative panel investigating Bridgegate released a report that revealed there was no evidence that Christie was involved in the scandal. The investigation has continued to bog down Gov. Christie while he continues to debate whether to run for the White House or not.
John Wisniewski, the co-chair of the legislative panel investigating the lane closures, called the conspiracy “sickening.” “It’s a sad day. They abused that trust so terribly,” Wisniewski said. The controversy surrounding the closures deeply damaged Christie’s standing within the national GOP and raised doubts about his viability in the presidential race, but the governor has continued to prepare for a bid and has given little indication that the scandal will dissuade him from the race.