Bridget Anne Kelly, the former Christie deputy chief of staff whose infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email has been central to the investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, broke her long silence on Friday following the announcement of her indictment.
“I am not guilty of these charges,” Kelly said at press conference in Livingston. “I never ordered or conspired with David Wildstein to close or realign lanes of the bridge for any reason, much less for retribution.”
Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was the recipient of the famous email and arranged the lane closures. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in federal court Friday and is cooperating with investigators, while Kelly and former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni were indicted.
“David Wildstein is a liar,” Kelly said.
Her remarks made for perhaps the most dramatic moment in a day filled with drama. Kelly and her predecessor in the deputy chief job, Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien — with whom she was said to be “personally involved” until Stepien broke up with her — are the figures closest to the governor who allegedly knew about the lane closure plan. She allegedly used her government position to orchestrate political dirty tricks.
And unlike the others charged she spoke directly the press today, while Wildstein only responded to a judge’s questions in court and Baroni released a statement.
Kelly was indicted on nine counts for allegedly conspiring to orchestrate the lane closures in September 2013 to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Gov. Christie’s reelection bid. She helped to keep the closures going and to put out a sham justification for the scheme, according to the indictment.
Kelly has been cast both as a cold-hearted political schemer who delighted in the scheme, texting Wildstein “Is it wrong that I am smiling?” in response to Sokolich’s pleas for help, and as a nervous, weepy, dependent person, in an internal report on the bridge scandal commissioned by Christie.
While she and her attorney Michael Critchley provided little new information on what led to the lane closures, after more than a year’s silence she appeared eager to strike back at what she described as betrayals and mischaracterizations by former colleagues and others who described her as a rogue employee.
“For over a year I have remained quiet while many of the people whom I believed in, trusted, and respected have attempted to publicly discredit and even humiliate me,” she said.
“I am here today to say that I will no longer allow the lies that have been said about me or my role in the George Washington Bridge issue go unchallenged. Contrary to the way that I have been described by some of my former colleagues, I am not stupid. I am not weepy, insecure, unqualified or overwhelmed,” she said.
Rather, she was a 20-year state employee who loved serving the public, she said, as well as the mother of four children who commuted long hours every day to her job.
“I believe I was and still am a very qualified, hardworking woman who took pride each and every day in being a loyal public employee,” she said.
She said she regretted the tone of some of the emails and text messages disclosed during investigations of the lane closures, saying her “attempts at sarcasm and at humor … were actually insensitive and offensive and do not reflect my true intention.”
[related]Without offering new evidence, she also sought to rebut some of the conclusions in the indictment and in the internal report produced for Christie by attorney Randy Mastro, which accuses her of lying to cover up her involvement in the lane closure plan, and describes her as the only Christie staffer involved in the scheme.
“I am not a liar, and I never lied to anyone about the George Washington Bridge issue. The characterization by some of my former colleagues in both the Mastro report and even in sworn testimony of my involvement in the George Washington bridge issue is at best a mistake, or at worst, a lie,” Kelly said.
“It is an absurd thought to believe that a member of the governor’s staff could close the George Washington Bridge. Additionally, for the indictment to suggest I was the only person in the governor’s office who was aware of the George Washington Bridge issue is ludicrous,” she said.
That statement led reporters at the press conference to press Critchley on who else was involved and whether those individuals directed Kelly to push for the closures. The attorney for the most part declined to be more specific, referring reporters to the internal report and saying he did not want to give U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman new information that might change the indictment.
“What Bridget said was accurate. Many people in the governor’s office knew contemporaneously, at the time, about the Bridgegate issue,” he said. “Just read the Mastro report.”
When asked to clarify what exactly the other people knew, he said they knew there was “an issue involving traffic at the George Washington Bridge,” but declined to say whether they knew the traffic problem had been deliberately created as political retaliation. Asked who had directed Kelly to write the “traffic problems” email to Wildstein, Critchley said, “You’ll find that out at the trial.” He said the Mastro report suggested the identities of unindicted co-conspirators but he declined to name them.
The truth about the origins of the bridge closure plan will be revealed at the trial, Critchley said.
He also previewed some of his legal defense, saying the charges rest entirely on Wildstein’s version of events and that Wildstein “cherrypicked some facts, taken other facts out of context, [and] omitted other facts” to support an indictment. He tried to cast doubt on the political retribution narrative, saying it made no sense to antagonize Sokolich at that point in the gubernatorial campaign, and that Sokolich has said no one had even asked him for an endorsement.
The attorney deflected a question about whether Kelly had discussed a plea agreement, suggesting only that he may have had discussions with Fishman about having Kelly testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
In addition to the alleged retaliation against Sokolich, Kelly addressed a claim that meetings between Christie and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop were canceled in response to Fulop’s decision not to endorse the governor for reelection. She had “absolutely nothing to do with the decision,” she said.
Kelly concluded by saying she looked forward to publicly sharing the truth with a jury and taking back control of how she is perceived.
“I will fight relentlessly to clear myself of these charges, and will work to regain my reputation and restore a sense of normalcy for my four children,” she said.