Christie Ally Pleads Guilty in Bridgegate Scandal
By Andrew Seidman and Maddie Hanna
A former ally of Gov. Christie's pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to conspiracy in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, admitting the closures were retribution against a local mayor for failing to endorse the Republican governor's 2013 reelection.
David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, admitted to conspiring with a former top Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, and a former top Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, to punish Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and use the guise of a traffic study to cover up the truth.
Kelly and Baroni have been indicted on 9 counts related to their alleged roles in the lane closures.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman is scheduled to hold a press conference at 1 p.m.
Asked by U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton whether the September 2013 lane closures began on the first day of school to maximize the impact of the resulting traffic jams, Wildstein's answer was yes.
Wildstein, 53, was released on a $100,000 bond due to his cooperation with the government.
His attorney, Alan Zegas, told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Newark that Wildstein has been cooperating with the federal government for "some time" and will continue to do so.
Asked what Christie knew, Zegas said, "Mr. Christie knew of the lane closures while they were occurring," repeating an assertion he made last year.
He again said "evidence exists" to show that. He did not give specifics.
Zegas said Wildstein "deeply regrets" the lane closures. He said Wildstein is willing to testify in court.
The plea comes 16 months after the office of U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced it was investigating the lane closures, following the Jan. 8, 2014, revelation that Kelly, then a deputy chief of staff to Christie, had sent Wildstein an e-mail about causing "traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Christie fired Kelly and cut ties with his two-time campaign manager, Bill Stepien, whose name also surfaced in documents subpoenaed by legislators.
Christie declared himself "embarrassed and humiliated," even as he denied having any involvement in or contemporaneous knowledge of the lane closures.
Addressing a business-friendly crowd in Northern Virginia this morning at an event for his political action committee, Christie didn't say a word about the plea expected Friday.
The specter of charges against members of Christie's administration or other close allies has loomed over the governor's political future as he has prepared to pursue the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Fishman will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. Friday regarding developments related to the lane closures.
The lane closures appeared to be set in motion on Aug. 13, 2013, when Kelly wrote in an email to Wildstein, a Christie appointee at the Port Authority: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Wildstein responded: "Got it."
Starting the morning of Sept. 9, 2013, Port Authority staff closed two of the three lanes leading from Fort Lee, Bergen County, to the George Washington Bridge, allegedly in response to orders from Wildstein.
Documents subpoenaed and made public by legislators show the Port Authority, at Wildstein's insistence, didn't alert local officials in advance of the plan.
A political blogger who wrote under the pseudonym Wally Edge -- a play on Walter Edge, a former New Jersey governor -- Wildstein was plugged into Jersey's political circles. He was friends with Christie's former press secretary, Michael Drewniak, and had ties to Mike DuHaime, Christie's chief political strategist.
At the Port Authority, where he was tapped for a newly created position in 2010, Wildstein was Christie's "eyes and ears" within the bistate agency, according to a description in a 2012 Bergen Record story.
But Christie has sought to distance himself from Wildstein. Though the two grew up in Livingston, and graduated a year apart in high school, "David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school," Christie said at a January 2014 press conference. "We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time, and then we reacquainted years later in, I think, 2000."
In the weeks after the scandal broke last year, Zegas first made the claim that "evidence exists" to prove that Christie knew of the lane closures while they were ongoing.
A photo shows Wildstein standing next to Christie in New York on Sept. 11, 2013, during a 9/11 memorial event.
Drewniak testified before lawmakers last year that during a Dec. 4, 2013, steak dinner, Wildstein said he had told Christie about the lane closures during a public event on Sept. 11, 2013.
According to Drewniak, Wildstein said that Kelly and Stepien, the governor's former campaign manager, had knowledge of the traffic jams. Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority two days after the dinner.
Christie has said he spoke briefly with Wildstein during the Sept. 11 event but doesn't recall him discussing the lane closures.
"He didn't say: 'Hey, by the way, Governor, I'm closing down some lanes on the George Washington Bridge to stick it to the mayor. Is that OK?'" Christie said in a March 2014 interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer. "That I'd remember."
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