Twenty months after sending what has to be the most infamous email in New Jersey history — “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” — a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R), Bridget Anne Kelly, is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Newark on conspiracy and fraud charges in the BridgeGate scandal.
Kelly, who served as Christie’s deputy chief of staff until he fired her for “lying” to him about her involvement in lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify for or hand over any documents to a state legislative panel investigating the bridge affair. She remained silent until Friday, when she came out swinging against the federal charges and her former colleagues.
“I will no longer allow the lies that have been told about me in the George Washington Bridge issue to go unchallenged,” Kelly said in a news conference with her attorney that proved she is the character to watch in the ongoing legal drama.
Kelly asserted that she was not guilty of the charges against her and never conspired with David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the bridge, to close lanes for any reason. The indictment against Kelly alleged that she, Wildstein and another former Port Authority executive, Bill Baroni, planned the lane closures in order to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey for refusing to endorse Christie’s 2013 re-election bid.
She added that it was “ludicrous” for the indictment to suggest that she was the only person in Christie’s office who was aware of the lane closures on the bridge. When rumors of lane closures on the bridge as political retribution began to float around, friends of Kelly’s told The New York Times that she was a fiercely loyal deputy who merely “follows the chain of command.”
Kelly also hit back hard against the picture of her painted in what is known as the Mastro report, an internal investigation of the bridge scandal by Christie’s office that found the governor wasn’t responsible for any wrongdoing.
“I am not stupid, weepy, insecure, unqualified, or overwhelmed,” Kelly said in the news conference, referring to some of the choicer adjectives her former colleagues had used to describe her. Kelly was not interviewed for that internal investigation.
The Mastro report also alleged that Kelly and another ex-Christie aide, re-election campaign manager Bill Stepien, were “personally involved” in the months before the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. It was unclear why that information was pertinent to the probe. Kelly’s lawyer, Michael Critchley, said at the time that the Mastro Report was a “preemptive strike” intended to “impugn” his client’s credibility.
Regardless of the state of her credibility, what’s clear is that Kelly has nothing left to lose in this case.
Critchley said in Friday’s news conference that she’s struggled to find a new job because potential employers believe she may be too “toxic.” Kelly’s also in danger of losing her home, Critchley said. His law firm has even set up a legal defense fund on Kelly’s behalf because of what it said was “the overwhelming interest from the public to assist and support [her] during this very difficult time.”