'Sad' end to bridge case, lawmakers and Fort Lee mayor say
- Author: Joanne Flowers Mar 31, 2017,
Mar 31, 2017, 12:53
A federal judge levied two punishments over the "Bridgegate" tale of political retaliation in New Jersey Wednesday, sentencing former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni to two years in prison and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, to 18 months.
The former longtime mentor to Christie admitted using his position to pressure United Airlines to revive a flight from Newark to SC, where he has a second home. Following the court proceedings, attorneys for both Baroni and Kelly addressed a gaggle of reporters outside of the federal courthouse in Newark to make it clear that both parties plan to appeal the sentences they were given.
"You could say she's lying, but that testimony is uncontradicted", he told the judge.
"I think the bully pulpit is the first and most important role", Christie said. The most infamous of those emails showed Kelly writing to Wildstein in August 2013 that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee".
During the trial, Kelly testified that Christie had approved a purported traffic study at the bridge. The agency oversees operations for major bridges, ports and airports in the New York City region and is run by officials appointed by New Jersey and New York state's governors. Prosecutors said the resulting traffic jams in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, were meant to punish its Democratic mayor for refusing to back Christie's re-election bid, as the governor's aides tried to burnish his bipartisan credentials before his 2016 presidential campaign.
Before imposing the sentence, Wigenton told Baroni, "This is a sad day for the state of New Jersey, and in particular for you".
Acting U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Bill Fitzpatrick said that he believes Wigenton's decisions were just and in line with the law.
After the sentencing, Kelly made a brief statement outside the courthouse saying, "Today has been a very hard day, obviously, for me and for my children but I want to assure my kids and everyone else that this fight is far from over". Later emails captured them discussing the closures, which began September 9 and caused massive jams on Fort Lee roads.
But his version of events - that he was not aware that anyone in his office was involved until months after the fact - was contradicted by testimony from Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein.
Lawyers for both defendants said after sentencing that they were looking forward to their pending appeals.
During the trial, Kelly and Baroni testified that another Port Authority executive, David Wildstein, convinced them the lane realignment was part of a legitimate traffic study.
Christie - who has maintained he had no role in the lane closures - was headed to the White House Wednesday, after confirming that President Donald Trump had named him to chair a commission targeting the opioid crisis.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna called Kelly the "impetus behind the crime".
The mayor of Fort Lee declined to comment on the case.
Christie denied all knowledge of the scheme and spent millions of taxpayer money on an external report that absolved him of blame.
The scandal metastasized in January 2014 following the publication by The Record and NorthJersey.com of an August 2013 email from Kelly to Wildstein - "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee".
Still, the scandal tainted what had been one of the most popular governorships in America and later helped sink Christie's fledgling presidential campaign.
A letter from the Office of the Bergen County Prosecutor said that criminal misconduct charges "cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt".