A former ally of Gov. Chris Christie pleaded guilty Friday to helping to engineer traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and concocting a cover-up along with two other officials with close ties to Christie.
David Wildstein did not implicate Christie in the scheme that has cast a long shadow over the Republican governor’s White House prospects in 2016.
Wildstein, an official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at the time of the tie-ups, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy.
He said that he came up with the plans along with Bridget Kelly, who was Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, who was Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority.
He said they orchestrated the scheme to punish the Democratic mayor of the town of Fort Lee, at the foot of the bridge, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid. He said they also agreed to cover it up by claiming the lane closings were part of a traffic study.
Before Wildstein appeared in court, Christie declined to comment Friday as he left a hotel in McLean, Virginia. Christie has insisted all along that he knew nothing about the scheme.
Federal prosecutors also scheduled an early afternoon news conference on the case.
Two of the three access lanes to the bridge in Fort Lee were shut down for four mornings in September 2013, causing huge delays.
The simmering scandal erupted a year ago when an email from Kelly to Wildstein was revealed. It read, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein’s reply: “Got it.”
By the time that email was made public, Wildstein had resigned, as had Baroni. The governor soon after fired Kelly and cut ties with Bill Stepien, his two-time campaign manager.
Questions over whether the lanes were closed for political retribution have been dogging Christie for more than a year. Christie has been gearing up for a 2016 presidential campaign but has not announced he is running.
Asked about the impending action during a news conference Wednesday, Christie brushed off the potential impact.
“I don’t think that has anything much to do with me,” he said.