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May 04, 2015

Former Christie aides plead not guilty in Bridgegate

Poll: 69% of N.J. residents don't believe Christie is fully telling the truth

As two former officials plead not guilty to federal charges in connection with the George Washington Bridge scandal, more than two-thirds of New Jersey residents say they don’t believe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been honest about how much he knew about the bridge lane closures.

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, pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday after being indicted Friday for conspiracy in connection with the lane closures, which created a traffic nightmare for residents in Fort Lee and the mayor, a Democrat.

Kelly and Baroni, each wearing business attire, attended their arraignment in U.S. District Court in Newark, where they entered their pleas and were ordered to post $150,000 bonds and surrender their passports. A trial date was set for early July.
Outside of the courthouse, Baroni proclaimed his innocence to the media.
"I would never risk my career, my job, my reputation for something like this," he said, adding that he planned to testify in his own defense at trial.
The poll, released Monday, found that 69 percent of New Jersey residents and a similar number of independent voters don’t believe Christie is fully telling the truth. And now, a majority of members of his own party don’t believe that the governor has been completely honest about the bridge scandal, a reversal from last fall when a majority of Republicans trusted him, according to the Monmouth University poll.

Bridget Anne Kelly, right, for deputy chief of staff for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and her attorney, Michael Critchley, arrive for a hearing Monday, May 4, 2015, in Newark, N.J. (Mel Evans / AP)

And worse for the governor, only 9 percent of voters believe that the three former officials indicted on Friday by federal prosecutors were the only ones involved with the lane closure scandal, according to the poll that surveyed 441 registered voters with a 4.7 percent margin of error. The poll was conducted following news of the indictments handed down in the scandal on Friday.

Christie has maneuvered toward a run for the Republican nomination for president but has not yet declared his candidacy. In 2013, he won largely-Democratic New Jersey by more than 20 percent.

“Christie’s overwhelmingly positive ratings in the aftermath of Sandy have now been sliced in half,” said Patrick Marry, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement. The poll also showed that Christie’s approval ratings have fallen. Currently, 35 percent of New Jersey residents approve of the job he is doing verse 54 percent that do not.

Just a few months ago in February, his job approval was 48 percent verse 44 percent who disapproved, according to the institute’s press release.

“Christie’s ratings had stabilized after the initial Bridgegate revelations early last year,” Murray said in a statement. “They started to erode again last fall, but these post-indictment numbers mark a significant acceleration in that decline.”

David Wildstein, a former official at the Port Authority, pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges on Friday. He said he helped orchestrate the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge in September of 2013 to punish the Democratic Mayor of Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, who had declined to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.

During his appearance in court, Wildstein implicated Baroni, his former colleague at the Port Authority, who defended the lane closures as a legitimate traffic study before a legislative committee in 2013. 

Kelly, who sent the infamous message “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” that set off the bridge scandal and connected the Christie administration to the decision to close down the lanes, was also implicated by Wildstein. Both Baroni and Kelly were charged Friday by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

Kelly denied she had the power to unilaterally order the lane closures during a rare statement to the press on Friday. She said that she did not go rogue and indicated others knew about the closures. 

Kelly's lawyer Michael Critchley said the government's case relied on the testimony of Wildstein, who he called "a flawed narrator."