Two former aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were convicted Friday morning after a seven-week trial on their roles in the Bridgegate scandal.
Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly faced charges over their involvement in a September 2013 closure of the George Washington Bridge. The trial revolved around their roles in shutting down lanes on the bridge as retaliation against a Democratic New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse Christie.
The conviction of Baroni and Kelly on nine different counts centered around the testimony of David Wildstein, a New Jersey political operative, the New Jersey Star Ledger reported.
In his testimony, Wildstein, who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government in an effort to stay out of prison, called himself a "political junkie" whose sole mission was to advance the governor's agenda. He said he was the one who came up with the lane closure scheme as a possible pressure tactic against [Mark] Sokolich as far back as 2011. But it was not triggered until 2013, say prosecutors, when Kelly determined that the Fort Lee mayor, a Democrat, was not going to endorse the governor for re-election.
Christie, then already planning to seek the Republican nomination for president, was looking to run up the number of Democrats endorsing him for the governor's race to show he had wide bi-partisan support and Sokolich was on a list of targeted Democrats.
In August 2013, Kelly sent Wildstein an email that said: "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." And on Sept. 9, 2013, Wildstein said he ordered Port Authority police to move the orange traffic cones setting aside two out of three toll lanes dedicated to Fort Lee traffic. With no warning to local officials or motorists, chaos ensued.
At the time of the incident, Wildstein disguised the bridge closure as a traffic study, even going so far as sending out a press release on behalf of the Port Authority.
In their testimonies, Kelly and Baroni stated that they believed the traffic study was legitimate and were being dragged into a rogue mission lead by Wildstein. Neither could explain texts and emails sent by both of them showing they had knowledge that the closure was a political decision.
The charges levied by the court could land Kelly and Baroni up to 20 years in prison, but they are likely to serve much shorter sentences. Their sentencing date is set for Feb. 21.