Bridgegate Trial: Chris Christie Focus Looms Over Opening Arguments Against Bridget Kelly And Bill Baroni

Opening arguments begin today in the “Bridgegate” trial against Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, but the focus of the scandal remains on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Kelly and Baroni are charged with nine counts of fraud and conspiracy, with the indictment alleging they arranged lane closings that caused gridlock on the heavily traveled George Washington Bridge. The resulting traffic delayed commuters and even slowed emergency vehicles down from responding to 911 calls.

The core of the prosecution’s case is the allegation that the closures were ordered to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who refused to endorse Christie for re-election. Speculation remains rampant that Christie was part of the week-long plot, although he has always denied any involvement.

According to USA Today, Bridgegate began in August of 2013 when Kelly, who was Christie’s deputy chief of staff, emailed David Wildstein, who was the director of interstate capital projects for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Wildstein replied, “Got it.”

On September 6, 2013, Wildstein instructed the Bridge’s general manager Robert Durando to close two of the three access lanes connecting Fort Lee, NJ to the bridge. The closure began September 9, which was the first day of school.

On September 10, Sokolich sent a text to Baroni asking for help because of the traffic jam and the difficulty getting kids to school.

Wildstein passed the message on to an unidentified person who responded, “Is it wrong that I am smiling? I feel badly about the kids I guess.”

Wildstein’s response was that the kids were the children of Barbara Buono, a Democrat who ran against Christie in 2013.

On September 13, Durando was instructed by Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority and an appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to re-open the lanes. On September 16, the Port Authority stated that the lanes were closed for a traffic study. Things continued to get worse when email exchanges between Wildstein and Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, showed the two calling the mayor an idiot and saying that it would be a tough November for the “little Serbian.”

In November, Baroni testified before the Assembly Transportation Committee and stuck to the original story, saying that the closure was the result of a traffic study but apologizing for not informing Fort Lee officials beforehand. On December 2, Christie spoke to the press and denied any knowledge of the closure. He also made a joke that he was the one out there working the traffic cones. A few days later, Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority, saying that the controversy was a distraction.

While the investigation continued on, Christie announced that Baroni was resigning but claimed that this had been part of the plan since before the election. He also claimed that he had spoken to his top staff and that none of them had any knowledge of the closures. He would later go on to say that he had been misled by his staff and claimed to be “deeply saddened” by their actions. Kelly lost her job, as did Stepien, meaning everyone involved was no longer working there. Questions remained about Christie’s part in Bridgegate.

Wildstein pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiracy to misapply property of the Port Authority and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Fort Lee residents. In response to his cooperation with the government, he was released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond and faces 21 to 27 months in prison. He will be sentenced after Kelly and Baroni’s trials have concluded. The sentencing hearing has been postponed twice already but he is expected to be a star witness in this trial.

It is not yet known what he will say, but as NYMag reports, Christie has been doing his best to discredit the man he’s known since childhood, meaning it’s fairly likely that Wildstein is going to drop a few bombshells. After the work he has done campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump, it’s obvious that Chris Christie is hoping for a prime appointment if Trump wins, but Bridgegate could bring that all crashing down.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie address bridge closure. [Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

While there has been no direct evidence linking Chris Christie to Bridgegate thus far, the scandal helped to derail his presidential campaign. As this Inquisitr article points out, a former aide of Christie has already claimed that he “flat-out lied” about his knowledge of the bridge closures. If his former aides turn on him, the trial could finally shed light on what exactly he knew, how involved he was, and what steps he took to cover the whole thing up. Until then, speculation about his participation will hang over the situation.

[Featured Image by Andrew Burton/Getty Images]