The jury in the Bridgegate case has found Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, guilty of a plot to use traffic jams for political retaliation.
As NY Post reports, two former aides of NJ Gov. Chris Christie were found guilty of closing down Fort Lee, NJ, lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish that borough’s mayor for not endorsing the governor’s re-election.
A jury of seven women and five men returned the guilty verdict after five days and 20 hours of deliberations in the Newark federal court trial of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, Christie’s appointee at the Port Authority.
The guilty verdict is more bad news for Christie, who saw his approval rating plummet to its lowest levels yet during the trial, where former staffers described him as a foul-mouthed bully who ordered subordinates to curse out his critics — and who once got angry over a playful box of donuts.
The government presented a mountain of evidence over the six-week trial, including testimony from Baroni’s former chief of staff, David Wildstein, who said he carried out the scheme at the behest of Kelly and Baroni.
The jury was also shown emails and text messages, including Kelly’s infamous email saying it was “time for traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Christie has repeatedly denied knowing his staff was involved in the lane closures, which snarled traffic in Fort Lee for days in 2013, until the following year. Wildstein, however, testified that he and Baroni spoke with the governor about the lane closures while they were happening – and that the Gov. laughed about it. Several other witnesses say they warned Christie in 2013 that his staff might have been involved.
NJ.com notes, the jury of seven women and five men heard from 35 witnesses, including both defendants who took the stand on their behalf.
But the most damaging evidence might have been the now-infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email sent by Kelly less than a month before several local access toll lanes at the world's busiest bridge were inexplicably closed for nearly a week in September 2013, leading to paralyzing gridlock on local streets.
The key witness against them was David Wildstein, a Republican operative who was on the stand for eight days. Wildstein acknowledged he was the one who came up with the lane closure idea as a point of leverage against Sokolich, and testified that both Baroni and Kelly helped him put it in play.
Baroni, 44, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Kelly, also 44, who served as a deputy chief of staff to the governor, were indicted more than a year ago after a 16-month federal investigation into the scandal that loomed large over Christie's failed presidential aspirations.
Assistant U.S. attorney Lee Cortes, in his summations to the jury, said Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein all saw themselves as the governor's “loyal lieutenants” who were free to use their public jobs to launch political attacks.
“They used their positions at the Port Authority and in the governor's office to execute a malicious scheme to punish a local mayor by needlessly leading innocent travelers, adults and children who were pawns in a political game into a paralyzing traffic jam that went on for days,” he said.
“They stopped people from moving freely about their community for no legitimate reason…just to mess with people, so they could send a clear and nasty political message. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes this a federal crime.”