In Chris Christie News, Crony Pleads Guilty In Bridgegate Scandal

We haven’t heard too much Chris Christie news lately. However, at long last, it’s time for some legal problems in Trenton. Earlier today, a longtime crony of the New Jersey governor pleaded guilty to his role in orchestrating the deliberate closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge in September 2013–and his lawyer indicated that Christie was well aware of the closings at the time. Two of Christie’s other aides were indicted for their roles in the so-called “Bridgegate” scheme and the traffic headaches that ensued in Fort Lee, across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

David Wildstein walking to the federal courthouse in Newark to enter his guilty plea (courtesy The New York Times)
David Wildstein walking to the federal courthouse in Newark to enter his guilty plea (courtesy The New York Times)

David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie’s who was one of the governor’s appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to defraud the Port Authority and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the people of Fort Lee by shuttering the lanes. He’d actually been cooperating with the government since January, when he reached a plea agreement with U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman. Also today, Fishman unsealed a nine-count indictment against Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, Bill Baroni. Kelly and Baroni are each charged with defrauding the Port Authority, wire fraud, and violating the civil rights of the people of Fort Lee.

Wildstein told federal judge Susan Wigenton that he, Kelly, and Baroni planned to shut down two of three access lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie’s bid for reelection–with no warning whatsoever to anyone in Fort Lee. He also admitted to ignoring Sokolich’s calls for help. According to both the criminal information against Weinstein and the indictment against Kelly and Baroni, the three of them had discussed the prospect of retaliatory lane closures as early as 2011.

Within 24 hours of learning that Sokolich would not endorse Christie for another term, Kelly then sent the now-infamous email message to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Weinstein admitted forwarding that email to Baroni, setting the scheme in motion. In short, Wildstein admitted what we have known for the better part of two years–that these lane closures were a dangerously criminal act.

Fishman contends that Wildstein, Kelly, and Baroni planned to shut down two of the three access lanes to the bridge and pass the closures off as a “traffic study.” He also alleged that as proof that they knew how outrageous their scheme was, they deliberately set the closures to begin at 6 a.m. on September 9–during the heat of morning rush hour on the first day of school. Fishman said that Wildstein corroborated the allegations in the indictment, which he described as detailing how Wildstein, Kelly, and Baroni “callously victimized” the people of Fort Lee.

Within hours of Wildstein’s guilty plea and the announcement of the indictments against Kelly and Baroni, Christie fired off a series of tweets reiterating that he had no prior knowledge of the scheme. Christie has insisted that he only learned about Bridgegate when he saw The (Bergen County) Record’s story about Kelly’s email on his iPad. However, Wildstein’s lawyer, Allan Zegas, repeated his client’s contention that Christie knew about the scheme all along–though he was “not in a position to talk about the matter in detail” at the moment.

Wildstein faces between 24 and 30 months in federal prison under sentencing guidelines. However, I have to hope that Wigenton opts for upward departure, considering the outrageous nature of this stunt. This represented a betrayal of one of the most sacred trusts in a democracy–that your government won’t deliberately do something to put you in harm’s way. I don’t think the upward departure should be too drastic, but should still be enough to recognize how dangerously criminal this was.

I have long believed that Christie should resign even if Wildstein is blowing smoke about the governor’s knowledge. There is no way in the world that Wildstein, Kelly, and Baroni would have attempted this stunt unless Christie fostered an environment in which it is acceptable to intentionally endanger people’s safety for political gain. Any governor who tolerates an environment that depraved, regardless of party, is morally unfit for office. Period, full stop.


Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.