Christie Breaks His Silence on the Bridgegate Verdict

by | November 8, 2016 AT 12:00 PM

By Andrew Seidman

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says a federal jury's conviction Friday of two former aides in a political payback scheme involving the George Washington Bridge does not reflect poorly on him and confirms what he thought when the scandal erupted in January 2014.

"I've had 25 people serve on my senior staff over seven years," Christie said in an interview with Charlie Rose, part of which was broadcast Monday on "CBS This Morning."

"And I had one person who didn't get it," Christie said, referring to former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly. "One out of 25. So I don't think it says anything about me. I think it says everything about that person."

He did not mention _ and was not asked about _ testimony that other high-ranking officials in the Christie administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey knew about the bridge plot or helped cover it up with a bogus story of a traffic study.

Christie said that contrary to news reports, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump never asked him to be his running mate.

Prosecutors accused Kelly and Bill Baroni, Christie's former top executive appointee at the Port Authority, of conspiring with former agency official David Wildstein to cause major traffic jams at the bridge in 2013 to punish a local mayor for his refusal to endorse the Republican governor's re-election bid that year.

Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in the case last year and was the government's star witness, testified that at a 9/11 memorial service, Baroni bragged to Christie about "tremendous" traffic problems in Fort Lee, Bergen County, and that the Port Authority was not returning the mayor's phone calls.

Baroni also told Christie that Wildstein was "monitoring the traffic" and "watching over everything," according to Wildstein.

"Well, I'm sure Mr. Edge would not be involved in anything that's political," Christie responded sarcastically, then laughed, Wildstein testified.

From 2000 to 2010, Wildstein ran a political blog under the pseudonym Wally Edge, a riff on Walter Edge, a former New Jersey governor. Baroni disputed Wildstein's testimony.

In Monday's interview, Christie reiterated his long-held position that he had "absolutely no recollection" of the conversation.

"If they would've told me 'Hey, we're creating traffic at the George Washington Bridge in order to punish the mayor for not endorsing you,' I would have remembered that," Christie said. "And they never said that."

Christie added, inaccurately: "In the whole trial, no one _ not even Bridget Kelly, Bill Baroni, or David Wildstein _ ever testified that anyone ever said to me that this was an act of political retribution."

Kelly testified that on Sept. 12, 2013, the fourth day of the lane closures, she told Christie that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had called a staffer in the governor's office complaining "about government retribution, or something like that."

Kelly told jurors that Christie replied: "It's a Port Authority project. Let Wildstein handle it."

Christie told Rose that the "jury confirmed what I thought on January 9th, 2014," the day after emails surfaced that appeared to link Wildstein and Kelly to the lane closures.

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote in a now-infamous August 2013 email to Wildstein, a month before the lane closures. "Got it," he replied.

"I thought there were three people responsible: David Wildstein, Bill Baroni, and Bridget Kelly," Christie told Rose.

He said the jury had reached the same conclusion. One juror has said Christie should have been charged in the case, and another told Bloomberg News that based on the evidence, she concluded that the governor was "a master puppeteer and was aware of everything that went on" in his administration.

Christie fired Kelly on Jan. 9 and distanced himself from Wildstein. During a nearly two-hour news conference that day, Christie told reporters he was severing ties with Bill Stepien, his campaign manager and close adviser whose name had surfaced in the Jan. 8 email disclosure.

But he did not condemn Baroni, who, along with Wildstein, had already resigned from the Port Authority in December.

In the interview broadcast Monday, Rose also asked Christie about the presidential race.

Asked whether he thought the bridge scandal had any impact on his vice presidential fortunes, Christie said he was unsure.

"I can't measure it. You'd have to ask Donald Trump. But Donald Trump didn't call me and say, 'You're not going to be vice president because of Bridgegate,'" Christie said.

Trump ultimately chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.

Asked whether he planned to run for office again, Christie said, "We'll see. Right now I don't. But you never say never in this life, Charlie."

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer