A judge sentenced two of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) former aides Wednesday for their role in the Bridgegate scandal in 2013.
In November, a federal jury found Bill Baroni, who served as Christie’s top official at the Port Authority of New York, and Bridget Anne Kelly, who was the governor’s deputy chief of staff, guilty on charges of conspiracy and fraud.
Baroni received a two-year prison sentence Wednesday, and Kelly got 18 months.
“I was wrong,” Baroni said. “I’ve waited three years to say that.”
The trouble started on Sept. 9, 2013, when three of the access lanes were shut down on the George Washington Bridge connecting Manhattan to Fort Lee, New Jersey. It’s the busiest bridge in the country. The change created significant problems on the New Jersey side of the bridge and was ordered without notifying police, emergency officials or officials on the New York side of the Port Authority’s leadership.
Christie officials originally tried to claim that the closures were part of a traffic study ― an excuse that was soon debunked. The real motive of messing with the city’s Democratic mayor, who refused to endorse Christie’s re-election bid, was revealed shortly afterward.
The most damning piece of evidence for the political payback scheme was an Aug. 13 email sent by Kelly, when she wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” David Wildstein, a Port Authority executive and close Christie ally, replied, “Got it.”
Kelly’s lawyer asked for leniency for his client in his sentencing memo, writing, “Notwithstanding all the sensationalism and publicity, Ms. Kelly was convicted for causing traffic. Ms. Kelly did not receive a penny from the alleged scheme to realign lanes at the George Washington Bridge.”
Baroni was fully aware of what closing the lanes would do to Fort Lee. Mark Sokolich, Fort Lee’s mayor, had written to Baroni in November 2010 to complain of ongoing traffic problems.
The sentencing happened as Christie was at the White House for a discussion on the opioid epidemic with President Donald Trump. Christie was a prominent Trump backer during the campaign and ran his transition effort for a time. He will now be leading Trump’s new commission to combat drug addiction.
In an interview on NBC’s “Today Show” Wednesday, Christie refused to comment on the sentencing, saying, “The judge will do what the judge believes appropriate. And it’s not my role or anybody else’s role, other than the judge in that courtroom, to pass sentence on people that have committed crimes.”
Christie was not charged with any wrongdoing, but the scandal haunted him during his presidential run. And the trial revealed details that brought the incident closer to his doorstep and cast doubt on whether he was truly in the dark about the scheme.
Even Trump has said he’s pretty sure the governor knew about the lane closures, although Christie has maintained that he had no prior knowledge about what was happening and did not authorize it.
Wildstein told jurors that he and Baroni talked with Christie about shutting down the lanes during a Sept. 11 memorial service. Wildstein has been cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy.
And a top aide to Christie privately told a colleague that the governor lied at a December 2013 news conference when he said no one on his senior staff knew about the lane closures.
“He just flat out lied about senior staff and [campaign manager Bill] Stepien not being involved,” Christie staffer Christina Renna texted.
“And if emails are found with the subpoena or ccfg [Chris Christie for Governor] emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad,” she added.
Stepien knew about the lane closures in advance, but there has so far been no evidence that he ordered them. He now serves as political director in the White House.
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