On Friday, federal prosecutors indicted two top aides of GOP Gov. Chris Christie for their roles in orchestrating a massive traffic jam as political payback against a New Jersey mayor. Bridget Ann Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff in Christie’s office, and Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, have been charged with several counts each of conspiracy to commit fraud.
The indictments came just hours after another close Christie ally, former Port Authority official David Wildstein, pled guilty to federal charges for ordering the lane closures that caused three days of gridlock in the town of Fort Lee. The news is grim for Christie, who is preparing to make a bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Wildstein’s plea and the looming indictments are a result of a 16-month federal investigation into the George Washington Bridge scandal. In September 2013, Port Authority officials shut down several access lanes in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey, setting off a mammoth traffic jam that lasted for days. Christie’s office denied involvement. But the following January, a judge released texts and emails suggesting that Christie’s inner circle masterminded the traffic debacle as political payback against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor. The mayor, Mark Sokolich, had refused to endorse Christie for reelection earlier that year.
Wildstein has admitted to ordering the lane closures that led to the traffic jam. The Port Authority official, who went to high school with Christie, was described as the governor’s “eyes and ears” inside the agency. But after the bridge scandal burst into public view, Christie sought to distance himself from Wildstein. Wildstein resigned his Port Authority position in December.
The messages released in January revealed that Kelly and Baroni had also helped order the lane closures. The day of the traffic jam, Kelly wrote to Wildstein: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” “Got it,” Wildstein replied.
Christie has repeatedly denied having any prior knowledge of the lane closures. On Friday, Wildstein’s lawyer said that “evidence exists” which proves that Christie knew about the lane closures.