An ex-aide to Chris Christie convicted of helping cause massive traffic delays on the nation’s busiest bridge to punish a political adversary attacked the former New Jersey governor ahead of her sentencing Wednesday, alleging in an interview that Christie knew in advance there would be lane closures because she had told him.
“I’m angry,” Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs, told The Washington Post before a judge sentenced her to 13 months in prison. “I think that he knew that I would be an easy target, and I’m wildly disappointed. I’m so angry at myself for trusting these people. I’m so angry at myself for not asking more questions. I find it really unfortunate.”
Kelly spoke to The Post a day before she was sentenced again for her role in a 2013 episode that has come to be known as “Bridgegate.” The incident led to hours-long delays for many commuters in the New York metropolitan region.
Federal prosecutors have asserted that lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, which spans the Hudson River, connecting northern New Jersey and Manhattan, were meant to create a traffic jam. It was retaliation against Fort Lee, N.J., Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s reelection bid, prosecutors said.
Kelly and another Christie ally, William E. Baroni Jr., then a top official with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were convicted in 2016 of conspiring to misuse Port Authority property. David Wildstein, another former Port Authority executive, pleaded guilty in the case.
Christie was never charged, although Kelly testified — and prosecutors asserted — that he knew of the plan. Christie continues to deny that.
“As I have said before, I had no knowledge of this scheme prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “No credible evidence was ever presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary is simply untrue.”
The scandal has been an occasional source of tension between President Trump and Christie — even as the former governor has become a political ally to Trump. During the 2016 Republican primary, in which Trump and Christie were rivals, Trump had said of Christie’s role in Bridgegate: “He totally knew about it.” And after Trump was elected, the New York Post reported that Trump “thought it was shameful” that Christie let Kelly face what she did.
Kelly said she was aware that some “family and friends” had discussed with Washington contacts the prospect of Trump pardoning her — although she declined to detail those conversations.
“While I would accept a pardon, no question, it’s not something that I am orchestrating the efforts for,” she said. She said she was heartened to read the New York Post article in 2016 that the president was sympathetic to her.
“In a weird way, it validated me, but it didn’t change anything, obviously, because at that point he couldn’t do anything,” Kelly said.
Kelly was initially sentenced to 18 months in prison and Baroni to two years, but an appeals court last year vacated some of their convictions and ordered them to be sentenced again. Kelly said she is talking to reporters because there had been “a lot of misconceptions.”
“It’s time for the truth to come out,” she said.
In the interview, Kelly largely repeated what she had said at trial — albeit more forcefully. She claimed she thought the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study, and that she was unaware of any political retaliation plot. She said she told Christie about the closures in advance, but she could not speak to the governor’s knowledge about possible retaliation.
“Do I know that he knew about political retaliation? He and David Wildstein, they knew each other well. I would say that, it would seem that something was not right here,” she said.
Kelly said she believed the public “didn’t realize and understand just how much Chris Christie knew.”
“And I think that I was the lowest-hanging fruit, and I believed that he had a stage and he had avenues to protect himself that I didn’t, and to defend himself that I did not, so while I was easy to pin everything on, there was a lot more to it,” she said. “So much more to it.”
Kelly justified as banter between colleagues an email she sent to Wildstein saying, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” before the closures. The traffic problems, she said, meant only to refer to what she thought would be a consequence of the study.