[UPDATE: In addition to the Wildstein indictment and guilty plea described below, two more top Christie officials, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, have now been indicted as well, on seven counts each for charges of conspiracy and fraud. Those indictments are now posted here.]
This will not be good for Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ)'s already long-shot chances of winning the 2016 Republican nomination for President. In fact, this could be the end of the line for him.
David Wildstein, one of Christie's top staffers at the center of the notorious "BridgeGate" scandal which shut down access lanes to the George Washington Bridge [GWB] from the town of Fort Lee, NJ beginning on the first day of school in September of 2013, has now accepted a plea agreement, pleading guilty to two federal charges of "Conspiracy to Obtain by Fraud, Knowingly Convert, and Intentionally Misapply Property of an Organization Receiving Federal Benefits" and "Conspiracy Against Civil Rights".
The punitive traffic shut down occurred, according to the federal indictment (posted in full below), in retaliation against Fort Lee's Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich's refusal to endorse the Republican Christie in his 2013 gubernatorial re-election bid against Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono, as initially suspected when the "BridgeGate" scandal first came to light last year.
"The object of the conspiracy was to misuse Port Authority property to facilitate and conceal the causing of traffic problems in Fort Lee as punishment of Mayor Sokolich," the federal plea agreement charges. "Just as the Conspirators had intended, the lane and toll both reductions resulted in significant traffic in Fort Lee, both for motorists intending to access the GWB from the Local Approach and for the residents of Fort Lee, whose streets were choked with traffic backing up from the Local Approach. ... [T]he Conspirators purposely ignored communications from Mayor Sokolich, including his pleas for help, requests for information, and repeated warnings about the increased risks to public safety."
Despite a call from a Port Authority employee who was unaware of the scheme, warning that the traffic congestion had already caused problems for police and ambulance responding to a missing child and a resident having a cardiac arrest, the conspirators ignored all such concerns and kept the closure in place...
"Throughout the course of the conspiracy," the indictment reads, "the Conspirators concocted and promoted a sham story that reducing the number of lanes and toll booths accessible to the Local Approach was for a traffic study."
The second count Wildstein pleads guilty to is in regard to the conspiracy "to injure and oppress the residents of Fort Lee in the free exercise and enjoyment of the rights and privileges secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States, namely, the right to localized travel on public roadways free from restrictions unrelated to legitimate government objectives."
Wildstein, a top Port Authority appointee and high school friend of Christie, executed the traffic shutdown at the Port Authority of NY/NJ in response to the infamous "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email from Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's deputy Chief of Staff. He has clearly been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney tasked with investigating the matter. Making matters potentially far worse for Christie --- who has repeatedly asserted he knew nothing about the scheme --- Wildstein continues to maintain that "evidence exists" that shows that Christie knew about the real reasons for the shutdown of the traffic lanes from Fort Lee, NJ. It is believed likely that there will be more indictments in the days ahead.
Both the complete indictment of David Wildstein and information about his plea agreement, as released today by the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, follow in full below...