Three former allies and aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are facing criminal charges related to their scheme to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge and create traffic as political retribution to the Fort Lee Mayor for not endorsing the governor’s reelection.
“They agreed to and did use public resources to carry out a vendetta and exact retribution,” said U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman at a press conference Friday afternoon, adding that the scheme “callously victimized the people of Fort Lee” who were just trying to go about their lives.
Fishman said a federal grand jury has charged former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and Port Authority Deputy Director Bill Baroni with 9 criminal counts, including conspiracy and fraud. Those charges come as David Wildstein, a former Christie ally and Port Authority appointee, pleaded guilty earlier Friday to to one charge of conspiracy to commit fraud on federally funded property and one civil rights violation.
While the developments deepen the stain the scandal has left on Christie’s tenure, Fishman indicated the governor would likely avoid any criminal charges.
“Based on the evidence that is currently available to us, we’re not going to charge anybody else in this scheme,” he told reporters.
In his plea, Wildstein admitted to using a “traffic study” as a cover for the lane closure and choosing the first day of school to maximize the impact. Wildstein also admitted to purposefully not alerting the Fort Lee Mayor or police chief, and admitted to intentionally keeping “radio silence” with local officials on the issue.
The investigation has also focused on Christie, who appointed Wildstein to the Port Authority position, and the governor’s staff. Federal prosecutors reportedly interviewed Christie over the Bridgegate affair late last year.
After the court hearing Friday, Wildstein’s lawyer, Alan Zegas, said the government was satisfied with Wildstein’s cooperation and reiterated the claim that Christie knew of the closures.
“Mr. Christie knew of the lane closures while they were occurring and evidence exists to establish that. That is as much as I can say, as much as I will say at this time,” Zegas said.
It is not yet clear whether Wildstein struck a plea deal with prosecutors to give them more information into how the scandal unfolded.
Wildstein’s not the only link to Christie in the scandal.
Christie fired Kelly after an email she sent to Wildstein calling for “traffic problems in Fort Lee” surfaced.
Christie also cut loose one of his top advisers, Bill Stepien, who was expected to play a key role in an eventual Christie presidential campaign, after Stepien’s name also popped up in email exchanges linked to the bridge closures.
In his plea, Wildstein implicated both Kelly and Baroni in the scheme, admitting they conspired together to punish the Fort Lee mayor.
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.