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Politics & Government

2 Former Aides To N.J. Gov. Chris Christie Found Guilty In 'Bridgegate Trial'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A federal jury has convicted two former aides to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud for their role in closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. Their motive - punishing the mayor of a local town, where the closures caused four days of gridlock. The Democratic mayor had not endorsed Christie, a Republican, for his re-election campaign. Matt Katz of member station WNYC joins us.

Hi, Matt.

MATT KATZ, BYLINE: Hi there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This is an unusual case about a traffic jam. Remind us what these aides did that was actually illegal.

KATZ: There were nine counts centered on really two main crimes. Intentionally misapplying government property - the lane enclosures involved moving cones and paying overtime to bridge workers. And the second was depriving residents of their civil rights to travel their town freely. During this four-day traffic jam, kids were stuck on school buses, and ambulance drivers had to get out of their vehicles and actually walk to emergencies.

Now, the mastermind for this political retaliation scheme was David Wildstein, who worked for the bridge agency and was something of a political fixer for Christie. He pleaded guilty and testified against the two defendants. The first was Bridget Kelly, who wrote an infamous email ordering the lane closures that said, time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee. And the second was Bill Baroni, who ignored repeated calls and texts from the mayor complaining about public safety while the lane closures were happening.

SHAPIRO: Now, you were in the courtroom when the verdict was read aloud. How did the defendants react?

KATZ: Bridget Kelly's face just collapsed. I was sitting very close to her. She began sobbing as the jury foreman got to the six counts she was convicted on. Bill Baroni, though, he was all smiles, oddly enough. He's a former politician. He put on a good face during the whole trial. Both of them vowed to appeal. And then afterwards, outside, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, who won guilty verdicts on all nine counts - he held a press conference where he blasted political corruption.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PAUL FISHMAN: When high-ranking people in government use their positions for personal or political advantage in a way that is against the law, I think it lends credence to the cynical notion that people have that people in government can't and shouldn't be trusted.

SHAPIRO: Now, Governor Chris Christie was not charged in this case. What did the defendants have to say about his role in this?

KATZ: Bridget Kelly said she told Christie about the traffic study that triggered the lane closures. The traffic study was their cover story. She said she told him both before and while the gridlock was plaguing Fort Lee. Other allies of Christie in court, meanwhile, testified that Christie knew during the four-month cover-up of the crime that people in his administration were involved, yet he kept telling the press that no one had done anything wrong. And yet despite all this sworn testimony, Christie did put out a statement today that he says he still did nothing wrong here, and that there were lies told in the courtroom and by the media that he will soon clear up.

But, you know, the political damage to him could be permanent. Witnesses told of Christie's vindictiveness. There were stories of him cursing out political enemies. And Bridget Kelly herself says that one time in a fit of anger, Christie once threw a water bottle at her.

SHAPIRO: And briefly, how is this likely to affect Christie's role in the Trump campaign, where he's leading the transition team?

KATZ: Well, it's already went against him when he was being considered to be the vice presidential nominee. And during this six-week trial, he really stayed in the background. But he is the transition chairman. He's picking people to serve in a potential Trump administration. You could, though, you know, question Christie's judgment in appointing people because now there are two convictions of people whom he himself appointed to high-level positions in his administration.

SHAPIRO: That's Matt Katz of WNYC. He also wrote a book about Christie and Bridgegate called "American Governor." Thanks, Matt.

KATZ: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.