Class Ramps Up|Bridgegate Allegation


     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie prepared for the much-anticipated presidential debate Thursday, his former aides faced new federal allegations over the “Bridgegate” scandal.
     With exhibits putting it close to 700 pages, the class action filed Thursday renews allegations of political corruption and retribution concerning the five-day September 2013 shutdown of several lanes leading into the George Washington Bridge, which had snarled traffic for hours.
     The lane shutdown, which occurred on the first day of school for children and had caused innumerable delays to both school buses and emergency vehicles, was allegedly payback for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich not endorsing Christie’s re-election for governor.
     In dismissing an earlier version of lawsuit, a federal judge chided the class for not including enough details on the alleged conspiracy.
     U.S. Judge Jose Linares had said in June that the complaint contained “merely conclusory allegations with respect to any alleged concerted activity of defendants and fails to set forth any allegations of fact with respect to defendants’ joint action.”
     On Thursday, the plaintiffs took the court up on its offer to amend their claims.
     The new filing draws heavily from a December 2014 report by the New Jersey Legislature, which alleged evidence of a conspiracy in hundreds of text messages, phone calls, and emails between Christie staffers and officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
     The amended complaint also cites an investigation by law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher on behalf of Christie’s office into both Bridgegate and allegations of withheld relief money after Superstorm Sandy.
     Bridgegate has been a consistent black eye for Christie over the past year and a half, but he has not faced any direct fallout.
     Indeed, he is not even named as a defendant to the latest iteration.
     The plaintiffs, who are residents of the nearby New Jersey towns of Old Tappan and Fort Lee, as well as several taxi services, instead have taken aim at the state; Christie’s gubernatorial re-election campaign organization; Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly; and Christie’s former spokesman.
     Former Christie-appointed Port Authority employees Bill Baroni and David Wildstein also are named as the defendants.
     Christie, who had been named as a defendant in the original action, has said the Gibson Dunn report – as well as two Democratic investigations – support his assertion that he was in the dark regarding Bridgegate.
     In a July 6 interview on MSNBC, Christie said “nobody cares” about the scandal and that “after a while people just say, ‘OK, I guess he’s telling the truth.'”
     The amended complaint additionally removes claims against Christie’s campaign manager, William Stepien, a friend of Wildstein’s.
     Though Stepien has maintained his innocence, he took heat for having called Fort Lee’s mayor an “idiot.” Christie eventually fired for the man for “poor judgment.”
     One of the most popular quotes from the scandal – “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” – appeared in an email Kelly sent just before the shutdown.
     She and Baroni face federal criminal charges over the scandal.
     After the bridge shutdown, Christie’s aides and Port Authority officials attempted to defer questions from the press and from Sokolich by saying the shutdown of several toll lanes was the result of a traffic study.
     Port Authority officials have already admitted to faking that traffic study as an excuse for the shutdown.
     The new complaint says Wildstein had sent Baroni emails saying he would have the Port Authority’s engineering department fabricate evidence to “make the traffic study cover story seem legitimate.”
     They also allegedly prepared misleading statements for the agency’s media relations department to deflect media questions.
     The complaint also quotes Wildstein and Kelly talking glibly about how the bridge-lane shutdown.
     After complaints about the snarled traffic, Kelly texted Wildstein, “is it wrong that I’m smiling?”
     Another read: “I feel badly about the kids. I guess.”
     When hearing of Sokolich complaining about the backed-up traffic, she emailed another colleague: “Good.”
     Portraying Kelly as eager to pursue political payback against others, the complaint quotes a separate text chain to Wildstein in which she asked about a rabbi who had become troublesome and whether they could “cause traffic problems in front his house.”
     In May 2015 Wildstein pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy for his role in the shutdown.
     Kelly could not be reached for comment. A lawyer for Baroni declined to comment on the amended complaint. A spokeswoman with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which is representing both the state and Drewniak, declined to comment.

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