On Thursday, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed to overturn federal convictions in the infamous “Bridgegate scandal” from 2013, where two toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge were inexplicably closed, resulting in a massive traffic pile-up. Later, it was revealed that several of then-Governor Chris Christie’s allies were involved in the closure, which was allegedly enacted as a political retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for governor.
According to Fox News, former New Jersey officials Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni were acquitted by the Supreme Court on federal charges of fraud for closing the George Washington Bridge. Though the court acknowledged that the lane closure was enacted for political purposes against the Fort Lee mayor, the action was not tantamount to criminal fraud in light of the fact that they were not out to obtain money or property.
“The question presented is whether the defendants committed property fraud. The evidence the jury heard no doubt shows wrongdoing – deception, corruption, abuse of power,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion. “But the federal fraud statutes at issue do not criminalize all such conduct.”
At the time of the scandal, emails showed that ex-Christie aides wanted to create a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to “punish” the mayor of Fort Lee for his failure to endorse Christie for governor. As a cover, Kelly, Baroni, and Port Authority official David Wildstein said the lane closures would be a part of a traffic study. Federal prosecutors argued that fraud was committed when the aides obtained “Port Authority funds necessary to pay traffic engineers for the study and back-up toll collectors to make the lane closure possible,” Fox News reported. The Supreme Court disagreed.
“[N]ot every corrupt act by state or local officials is a federal crime,” Kagan wrote. “Because the scheme here did not aim to obtain money or property, Baroni and Kelly could not have violated the federal-program fraud or wire fraud laws.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) hailed the decision as a vindication.
“What cannot be undone is the damage that was visited upon all of the people dragged through the mud who had nothing to do with this incident,” Christie said in a statement, adding that the struggle “cost the taxpayers millions in legal fees and changed the course of history.”
President Trump also congratulated Chris Christie and the ex-aides for their victory on Thursday.
“Congratulations to former Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, and all others involved, on a complete and total exoneration (with a 9-0 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court) on the Obama DOJ Scam referred to as ‘Bridgegate.’ The Democrats are getting caught doing very evil things, and Republicans should take note. This was grave misconduct by the Obama Justice Department!” the president tweeted.
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