Gov. Chris Christie defended himself Friday in a statement after a federal jury in Newark found former aides Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni guilty of all charges for their roles in carrying out politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.Former Christie ally and ex-Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein pleaded guilty last year to two counts of conspiracy for his involvement in the matter.
“On January 9, 2014, I apologized to the people of New Jersey for the conduct exhibited by some members of my administration who showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people we serve,” Christie said. “Those people were terminated by me and, today, the jury affirms that decision by also holding them responsible for their own conduct. Like so many people in New Jersey, I’m saddened by this case and I’m saddened about the choices made by Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein. Today’s verdict does not change this for me.”
As he has previously done repeatedly, Christie again denied Friday having any prior knowledge of or involvement in the lane closures, despite numerous accounts in courtroom testimony that the governor was indeed told.
Wildstein even testified that Christie laughed when informed of the scheme, which was orchestrated as a form of political retribution against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie’s re-election campaign.
“But let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them,” Christie said. “No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue. As a former federal prosecutor, I have respected these proceedings and refused to comment on the daily testimony from the trial. I will set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.”
Though he previously said he would have complied with an appropriate subpoena request, Christie, a former U.S. Attorney himself, was never called to testify in the trial.
Parsippany-based Day Pitney partner Dennis Kearney says that, as far as he can tell, Christie’s legal standing is “unchanged” by Friday’s guilty verdicts.
“It does not change anything,” Kearney said.
But that doesn’t mean Christie comes away from this clean, either.
In addition to Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein, former Christie confidante David Samson, who previously served as the chairman of the Port Authority, pleaded guilty in July to a charge of bribery for his role in a pay-for-play scheme involving United Airlines. That federal probe into Samson was sparked by the ongoing investigation into the lane closures.
“Optically, it’s huge,” said Kearney. “Now you’ve got how many members of your inner club that are convicted felons?”
Kearney said it’s “way premature to guess” what sentencing will look like for Baroni and Kelly and appeals are very likely.
With similar defenses used by both defendants, Kearney said it would be unusual that one would have stronger grounds to a successful appeal over the other.
“They’re in the same boat,” Kearney said of Baroni and Kelly.
As far as strategy, Kearney said he expects the defendants to hold true to their testimony over the last month in court.
“You will not see a change of heart and (Kelly) is not suddenly going to embrace those emails and that text,” Kearney said, referring to the now famous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email that she sent to Wildstein prior to the lane closures.