The Bridgegate trial out of New Jersey came to a close today, with two former aides to New Jersey governor Chris Christie being found guilty and convicted on multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy, reports ABC News today. It reportedly leaves the future of New Jersey governor Chris Christie uncertain, with many experts using phrases such as “indicted or impeached,” reports NJ.Com. As this trial comes to a close, so does an election cycle, and Chris Christie continues to campaign for Donald Trump as a spearhead of Trump’s transition team if he gets elected as president, reports Policy Mic.
Policy Mic also reports this conviction of Christie’s two allies could pose legal troubles for the New Jersey governor. Indeed, Governor Christie has not seen the last of the Bridgegate scandal and will appear before a Citizen Criminal Complaint hearing next month on the matter, reports CNN.
But today, the focus was on his allies, Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority official for New Jersey, reports ABC News. They have been convicted of multiple counts of fraud and conspiracy after being accused of conspiring to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge during Chris Christie’s 2013 election campaign, and for doing so for political retaliation.
ABC News reports that a Newark, New Jersey, jury deliberated over five days for approximately 20 hours before finding Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni guilty of devising a scheme that led to lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in 2013. The case opened with prosecutors saying they would prove that Governor Christie knew about these lane closures at the time.
A federal prosecutor argued that they schemed to close lanes on the bridge, disguising it as a traffic study, because Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich refused to endorse Chris Christie for re-election in 2013. It was a hotly contested decision that led to multiple complaints, and even cartoons made rebuking Governor Chris Christie as the culpable party.
Kelly and Baroni will be sentenced in February, 2017, and are each facing federal maximums of over 100 years in prison, reports ABC News. However, ABC reports it is unlikely they will get that much time with their most serious charges carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Bridget Kelly was “visibly distraught” when leaving the courtroom today with her attorney, reports ABC News. Defense attorney Michael Critchley told reporters today that Kelly was being used as a “scapegoat” in this case, and that the defense intended to appeal the guilty verdict. Baroni’s lawyer also reportedly told the press that they intend to appeal as well.
Chris Christie has denied any involvement in the alleged conspiracy since the scandal came to light and went to trial. He said he would be setting the record straight “in the coming days” regarding any alleged role he may or may not have had, reports ABC News. ABC also reports he issued a statement today.
“On Jan. 9, 2014, I apologized to the people of New Jersey for the conduct exhibited by some members of my administration who showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people we serve. Those people were terminated by me and today, the jury affirms that decision by also holding them responsible for their own conduct. But let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them….I will set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.”
Christie is referring to the fact that statements were made in testimony by the accused that directly contradict his ongoing statements that he had no knowledge of the lane closures. Former Port Authority David Wildstein, who has pled guilty on the matter to avoid trial, testified that he specifically told the governor of the traffic problems that the “plot” created in Fort Lee, “as they were going on,” reports NJ.Com.
The aides that were found guilty today also testified under oath that Chris Christie knew the lane closures were a political retaliation against the Fort Lee mayor, reports Policy Mic. It is unfortunate timing for Chris Christie, who is a key Donald Trump supporter and is responsible for vetting and securing cabinet and top-tier White House staffers if Donald Trump were to win the election.
It is also one of the key reasons Chris Christie has been so quiet on the matter, reports Policy Mic. Policy Mic also says Chris Christie will be campaigning for Donald Trump this weekend in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Policy Mic also says it was Chris Christie who was responsible for sparking the “lock her up” chant against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention this summer.
Now, his own aides are facing serious possibility of experiencing that themselves, and he has been implicated through testimony on stand in the matter. Policy Mic says there are potential legal problems ahead for Chris Christie, and CNN reports he will attend a Civil Criminal Complaint hearing next month.
Matthew Hale, a political science professor of Seton Hall University, said the following.
“Chris Christie’s response ought to be ‘Hello, private sector.’ We never say never in politics, but I would say the only person who has a worse chance of reviving a political career than Chris Christie is Anthony Weiner.”
Patrick Murray of the Monmouth University Polling Institute also commented.
“The short-term effect is bad. There was testimony during the trial that Christie knew more than he let on, and he will have to fight against that in the context of a guilty verdict. But, if he doesn’t get indicted himself or impeached, he might be able to get out from under this.”
CNN confirms that legal troubles may be on the horizon for Chris Christie. In an October report, CNN revealed that Governor Christie will face a Citizen Criminal Complaint appearance in relation to the Bridgegate scandal. CNN reports that documents reveal that a citizen known as Bill Brennan has accused Governor Christie of misconduct.
“Knowingly refrained from ordering that his subordinates take all necessary action to re-open local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee, New Jersey, that had been closed with purpose to injure Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.”
Watch Governor Chris Christie talk on New Jersey radio two years ago. Here he discusses the case, subpoenas, the attorney general, and his role in this case.
Brennan has also reportedly called for the state attorney general and county prosecutor to be disqualified from duty as they were a Christie appointment. He also points the finger to the New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino, who was, at one point, reportedly “chief counsel to Christie and his then-Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly,” reports CNN.
CNN reports that a spokesman for Chris Christie, Brian Murray, said the Citizen Criminal Complaint was “dishonorable” and “filed by a known serial complainant and political activist with a history of abusing the judicial system.”
[Feature Image by Julio Cortez/AP Images]