Late Friday morning, a jury in New Jersey returned a verdict in the case against former Chris Christie aides Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly in “Bridgegate,” the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge. Jurors decided that Baroni and Kelly had conspired to create gridlock on the span between New Jersey and New York, finding them guilty on all nine counts. Two other aides to Christie, who is the Republican governor of New Jersey, had previously pleaded guilty.
That creates a sticky situation for Christie—and, in turn for Donald Trump. Christie was one of Trump’s earliest backers within the GOP establishment, and although he was passed over for the role of vice-presidential nominee, he is leading the transition team that will create a presidential administration if Trump wins on Tuesday.
As if it’s not bad enough for four of Christie’s aides to be guilty of federal crimes, the trial actually looked worse for the governor than that verdict would suggest. Though Christie has not been indicted, the prosecutors’ case heavily hinged on the assumption that the lane closure was designed to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie. The trial also suggested that Christie was, despite his protestations to the contrary, involved in the scheme. A text message revealed in filings showed another aide saying that the governor “flat out lied” in saying that his top staff were not involved. Kelly said much the same, as James Ford reported for Pix11 News:
She indicated that Christie not only knew ahead of time about a potential congestion, causing traffic study on the New Jersey side of the bridge that connects the Garden State with New York. She also said, numerous times, that she and Christie had discussed the traffic snafu in the weeks between it happening and the news conference, where Christie and the rest of the staff denied it all.
"I was petrified," Kelly said on the stand, with tears in her eyes, "because now nobody was acting like they knew anything about Fort Lee."
To the fury of defense attorneys, jurors were not asked to rule on whether Kelly and Baroni conspired specifically to punish Sokolich for his non-endorsement; they only had to decide whether there was a conspiracy. Without rendering a verdict on their motive, the jurors decided that Christie’s aides had, in fact, conspired against Fort Lee.