As 'Bridgegate' trial begins, New
Jersey's Christie remains focus
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[September 19, 2016]
By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie is not expected to attend the trial this week of two
former associates charged in the 2013 "Bridgegate" scandal, but the
failed Republican presidential hopeful's shadow will loom over the
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday in federal court in Newark,
New Jersey. Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly are charged with
conspiracy and fraud in a nine-count indictment alleging they arranged
lane closings that caused gridlock on the heavily traveled George
The resulting traffic delayed commuters for hours and left emergency
vehicles slow in responding to 911 calls. Prosecutors said the two
defendants planned the lane closures to take revenge on a mayor who
refused to endorse Christie for re-election.
The governor, at one time a leading Republican presidential hopeful, has
not been charged in the scandal that nevertheless helped torpedo his
hopes for nomination to the White House in 2016.
In the three years since the scandal broke, Christie has repeatedly
denied any knowledge of the plan to disrupt traffic on the world's
busiest road bridge, despite speculation to the contrary.
The trial could finally provide a definitive answer to the question of
whether he knew about the alleged plot, and if so, when.
"Bridgegate" took place after Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich
declined to endorse the governor's reelection campaign in 2013. Christie
was seeking support from local mayors to demonstrate bipartisan backing
for a Republican governor in a Democratic-leaning state, part of an
effort to position himself for a 2016 White House bid.
Prosecutors say the lane closures were ordered in September 2013 by
Kelly, Christie's then deputy chief of staff; Baroni, then deputy
executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and
David Wildstein, another Christie ally at the Port Authority who has
since pleaded guilty.
The GW carries more than 250,000 vehicles a day across the Hudson River
between New Jersey and Manhattan.
The trio concocted a cover story, saying the closure was part of a
traffic study, prosecutors contend. The shutdown lasted four days, while
Baroni and Wildstein ignored increasingly frantic messages from the
mayor, according to prosecutors.
[to top of second column]
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reacts to a question during a
news conference in Trenton, New Jersey, U.S. on March 28, 2014.
REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo
The ruse fell apart under scrutiny from journalists and the
Democratic-controlled state legislature. In January 2014, emails and
text messages were publicly disclosed that showed the officials'
involvement, including an Aug. 13, 2013, email in which Kelly told
Wildstein: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Wildstein, who is expected to be a star government witness, has
previously said there is evidence that Christie was aware of the
lane closures when they occurred.
Jurors also may hear from Kelly and Baroni, as lawyers for both
defendants have said they plan to testify in their own defense.
The defense has suggested it will point the finger at others,
including Christie, in arguing that Kelly and Baroni would never
have acted on their own.
In a pretrial motion, a lawyer for Baroni revealed that a former
Christie aide said in a text message that the governor "flat-out
lied" when he said during a 2013 press conference that none of his
senior staff were involved in the scandal.
A spokesman for the governor has said the text message does not
disprove Christie's contention that he was unaware of the plot.
Since abandoning his own candidacy for president, Christie has
become one of Republican nominee Donald Trump's most visible
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)
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