Prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office asserted on Monday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has maintained that he had no idea about the plan to close the George Washington Bridge as an act of political retribution, was fully aware of the plan as it was happening back in 2013.
The allegation came during opening arguments of the federal lawsuit filed against two of the conspirators. Bill Baroni, a former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, were indicted on multiple counts of conspiracy, fraud, and other charges for their role in the Bridgegate saga.
The prosecutor’s suggestion that Christie himself had direct knowledge of the bridge’s closure and the political motivations behind it represents the first time the governor has been formally accused of knowing about the scandal as it unfolded. Christie is not a party in the ongoing trial.
For years now, Christie maintained that he was unaware of what his deputies were plotting to do back in 2013. After Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich (D) declined to endorse Christie’s gubernatorial reelection bid, officials within the Christie administration closed local access roads to the George Washington Bridge, snarling traffic for a week and sending cars spilling onto the surface streets of Fort Lee. More than a simple inconvenience, the ensuing traffic caused problems for emergency response vehicles and has cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million in legal fees alone so far.
Investigations into the incident have found that several high-level staffers from Christie’s office had a hand in the scheme, and Christie responded by firing Kelly and simultaneously reiterating his innocence.
As of yet, no evidence has surfaced that proves Christie knew about the bridge closure. But last month, newly released court documents contained a series of text message conversations between Christie staffers that suggested Christie lied during a press conference when he said that he had no reason to think his own senior staff were operating on his behalf.
According to the New York Times, prosecutors in the case say that two of the alleged masterminds behind the closure bragged to Christie about their plot, and the motivations behind it. Defense lawyers for Kelly and Baroni have also said that Christie was aware of the closures. So far, he has not been charged with any crime.