NEWARK, N.J. (CN) – After a tearful hearing where she received a 13-month prison sentence for her role in the Bridgegate scandal, a former top staffer of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie cast herself as a scapegoat Wednesday for orders that came from the top.
“Mr. Christie, you are a bully and the days of you calling me a liar and destroying my life are over,” said Bridget Anne Kelly, who had been the Republican governor's deputy chief of staff in 2013.
Speaking outside the federal courthouse in Newark, the 46-year-old mother of four reiterated an argument from her 2016 trial that only Christie could have OK’d the traffic jam she was convicted of engineering.
“The truth will be heard, and for the former governor that truth will be unescapable, regardless of lucrative television deals or even future campaigns,” Kelly added. “I plan to make sure of that.”
Kelly faced resentencing today after the Third Circuit tossed her civil rights convictions. She was initially given an 18-month sentence after a jury found her guilty of helping cause a traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge that lasted for four days in 2013.
During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton said the reversed counts did not change much. “While the charges changed somewhat, the facts haven’t changed,” Wigenton said. “I could impose the exact same sentence, nothing has changed.”
Wigenton called attention to the fact that Bridgegate caused thousands of commuters to spend hours in traffic for days. “It was not acceptable then, it’s not acceptable today,” she said.
Kelly’s attorney Michael Critchley emphasized in a statement to the court, meanwhile, that other individuals who were “substantially involved in Bridgegate” have not only not faced punishment but have actually done well.
Chief among those is Christie, Critchley said, who has gone on to become a best-selling author, news commentator and possible future presidential candidate. “What happened to him? Not a thing,” Critchley said.
“The idea that [Kelly] did this without the governor knowing, defies logic and common sense,” Critchley added.
He said if Kelly were to lie, she would have said Christie directed the entire scheme.
The Bridgegate scandal broke open in early 2014 after the publication of emails and texts between Kelly and two Christie appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey showed that the trio had conspired to shut down two lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge as political payback for Christie.
Kelly became infamous after one of those communications — an email sent to co-conspirator David Wildstein just before the lane shutdowns were authorized — saying it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The mother of four was Christie's deputy chief of staff at the time.
Before it ends in upper Manhattan, the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge begins in the busy suburb of Fort Lee. The city has for been led by over a decade by Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who found himself on the Republican Christie’s enemies list in 2013 for declining to back his re-election.
Jurors heard testimony about the plot from Wildstein, who pleaded guilty rather than face trial with Kelly and co-defendant William Baroni Jr., and convicted the pair on all nine charges at a seven-week trial in late 2016.
Baroni was sentenced to two years in prison, but that term eventually was cut down to 18 months. He began serving the sentence at Loretto Federal Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania earlier this year.
Wildstein received probation after pleading guilty for his role and in exchange for serving as the government’s star witness.
While Kelly silently wept at today’s hearing, Critchley told the court she would soon be separated from her children and is living day to day on gift cards and food donations. At the same time, he said, Wildstein has gone on to publish a political website, much like he did before Bridgegate, while former Christie staffer Bill Stepien has become a key figure in the Trump administration.
U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna told the court today that Kelly committed a “flagrant and brazen abuse of power that put people in harm’s way” and later committed perjury by lying during testimony.
Khanna said people like Christie who were mentioned during the trial were not charged, and that “no matter what was said in some book” by Christie, the facts presented during trial showed Kelly was a senior staffer who had the governor’s ear.
Throughout the trial and after sentencing, Kelly and Baroni maintained their innocence, saying the lane shutdown was due to a legitimate traffic study.
Kelly became emotional during her trial when she said Christie had personally blessed the shutdown weeks before it happened.
They both showed some contrition during their sentencing. Kelly cried before the judge as she apologized for “insensitive and disrespectful” emails she had sent.
Kelly has 14 days to file an appeal of her new sentence, which includes one year of probation. She is also prohibited from any paid government job during her supervised release, and must pay a $2,800 fine.
She has already petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit’s decision, though the high court has not yet decided whether to hear the case.Follow @NickRummell
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