On Wednesday, Bridget Anne Kelly, who served as a top aide to former New Jersey Governer Chris Christie, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for her role in the 2013 Bridgegate scandal. A jury in 2016 found her guilty of conspiring to close the lanes to the George Washington Bridge in order to cause days of traffic in the town of Fort Lee, where the bridge sits. The five-day gridlock was the center of a revenge plot against the mayor of Fort Lee, who had not endorsed Christie's reelection.
Kelly's co-defendant, Bill Baroni, reported to prison earlier this month, and the admitted mastermind of the scheme, David Wildstein, cooperated with prosecutors and avoided prison. Christie was never charged; he has always denied any involvement with Bridgegate or the cover-up, and in statements to the media this week he reiterated that.
Now, out on bail, Kelly is waiting to hear whether the Supreme Court takes her case. And for the first time since 2013, when she wrote the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email that broke the scandal wide open, she is talking to the press.
Kelly sat down with reporter Matt Katz, who was the first journalist to ask Christie about Bridgegate, at WNYC on Friday. This conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.
I've been covering this story for 5 ½ years and I have never sat down with you for a taped interview. But the case isn't over—you're still appealing to the Supreme Court. So I was first wondering why you're going on this public offensive right now, why you're going out trying to tell your story at this moment?
I felt that if this is my sentence now and it looks like I may be going to prison this summer, I need to talk now. Because I can't be sitting somewhere away from my children, away from my family, and not have done and said everything I need to say.
I think there was a lot that was missed and a lot that was maybe not heard in the courtroom. So I think it's just time to tell more [about] the situation. Because to call it a story would be to minimize it. It's actually my life.
Does the media attention also help to drum up attention so perhaps President Trump considers a pardon or maybe there's enough attention that the Supreme Court accepts the case and considers the appeal? Is that part of the media strategy?
I like that you think that I could be that calculated, but this is therapeutic for me. I have been intimidated, I have been silenced for so long. And the minute I start calling out the bullies for who they are, or who he is, I'm now going to get attacked. But I got beaten up basically for 5 1/2 years. And because I haven't talked for 5 ½ years, my former boss, [Chris Christie], has a platform. He has you know a contract at a major news station [ABC]. He wrote a book ["Let Me Finish"]. He's a pundit everywhere. So he's beaten me up. Listen, I'd rather he not talk about me, but it's finally my turn to talk.
What were you thinking when you wrote "it's time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee"?
David Wildstein at the Port Authority was one of the governor's top appointees there. He had told me early in the summer that the Port Authority wanted to do a traffic study because Fort Lee has three lanes that allows 5 percent of the commuters to travel [onto the George Washington Bridge]. Ninety-five percent of the commuters use nine lanes. So he had called me mid-August  to ask if I had mentioned it to the governor about the traffic study. I mentioned it to the governor on August 12th. And [Christie] told me, "Let the Port Authority do what they're going to do," [and] "Let David do what he's gonna do."
And on the 13th I sent the email. One of the effects of this traffic study was going to be this tremendous, treacherous traffic in Fort Lee. But David assured me the Port Authority would handle it and that we may hear some incoming from the mayor and elected officials but they'll handle it—they'll handle it, this is their traffic study. Because David used the [phrase] "traffic problems," I mimicked him. I didn't have the power to approve a traffic study, let alone know what I was approving. I just let David know that I had spoken to the governor.
And again, I should have worded it differently, but that's what I did. I mimicked David's words, and here we are.
Listen to part of Matt Katz's interview with Bridget Kelly on WNYC:
There were two other messages though [that you wrote] that indicate that you may have—it seems on the surface—that you may have known that there was something shady going on, that this was, at least in part, a vengeful act. And that was, “Is it wrong that I'm smiling?” when the traffic jams were happening, and, “I feel badly about the kids...I guess,” when kids were stuck on school buses in the gridlock. And then Wildstein replies, “They are the children of Buono voters,” a reference to Barbara Buono, who was running against Christie for re-election. So don't those messages on the surface sound like you at least knew a little bit that this was meant to go after the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie?
Well, no, because [Fort Lee] Mayor [Mark] Sokolich—I don't know him. So I didn't know that there was a poor relationship with Mayor Sokolich. I worked in an office full of a lot of very egomaniacal men, and I know you know what I'm talking about. A lot of these men—and there weren't a whole lot of women—a lot of these men wanted to be validated. And David was one of them. David liked to be right. And part of that other message, I believe, was that the traffic was moving quicker, that I-95 had opened up. So “is it wrong that I'm smiling?” is not about Mayor Mark Sokolich. That was about David being right [that other lanes on the bridge would have less traffic].
David wanted validation from everyone, whether it was a low level staffer like me or Chris Christie. If David and the Port Authority and perhaps Governor Christie had an issue with Mark Sokolich, I wasn't aware of it. I come to know obviously through this whole thing clearly there is something more here. But you know text messages and emails don't give you full context. And that's where we are.
“I feel badly about the kids”—I did feel badly about the children. I would have never, as a parent, said to David, “Yeah go ahead with a traffic study the first week of school. Oh, and on September 11th.” I'm not a callous individual.
“I guess” was not in response to “I feel badly about the kids.” There's so much more context to those conversations that on their surface, I get it, and I wish I had chosen different words and not answered in such haste. And that's one huge lesson from this that I have taught my kids is: Think about what you're gonna type.
Because it doesn't go away.
It never goes away.
Can you just describe your conversations with Christie about this?
August 12th—when I just let him know. And on the week of the lane realignment, on September 11th, the governor came into my office after the 9/11 Memorial [ceremony].
So I said to the governor, “Hey, you know this Fort Lee issue, the mayor is really upset.” And he told me to let Wildstein handle it. And I mean that was the extent of it.
The next day, [the Seaside Park boardwalk] was on fire. [Christie] tells me to get in the car with him, and we travel down to Seaside. It was that during that time frame that I told him that the mayor was still upset and he said, “Let Wildstein handle it.” So in my mind, like, what more can I do? He's the governor of the state in New Jersey. If I could go back I would have asked more questions, I would have perhaps called the Mayor [of Fort Lee] myself. But you know, that's all done now, and I'm going to jail. But the governor knew and what I wish he would do is just acknowledge the fact that I told him about the traffic study. But he wanted no part of it.
Governor Christie and Bridget Anne Kelly in Seaside Heights, September 2013 (NJ Governor's Office)
Tell me [what you testified at trial] about Christie's abusiveness as a boss.
There were many times where he was lovely, charming, so kind to me, always acknowledged and appreciated the fact that I was a single mom with four kids. Oh and by the way I commuted 2 1/2 hours every day to my job. So he was generous in the sense that: I get it you got to get home, how are the kids? Very, very friendly in that sense. But when the switch flipped, the switch flipped.
[Following a fire on the Seaside Heights boardwalk], the governor says, “Listen, let's get all the business owners in a room with all the department heads that can help them rebuild.” So I put the meeting together. The plan was he was going to do a boardwalk walk, which you know he liked to do.
And we go to the wrong place. So he's not happy. And he's like, “How the hell is this day going to go? How the hell is this meeting gonna go?” I said: “I have X Y and Z”—I named all the departments there. I said, “We have business owners from 15 businesses, the room is set up in a U.” And he was like, “Fine.” So that was that. We get in there and we're in the ante room. And he was across the table from me. And he's like, “All right, now what am I doing?” And I said, “Governor, you're gonna go in, you're going to introduce the department heads that are here, they're going to speak to the programs [to help the businesses affected by the fire], maybe take any questions.” He goes: “I'm not a fucking game show host.” And he threw the water bottle across the table, airborne, and it skimmed my arm.
He went out [to the meeting], and it was like he flipped a switch and he was charming as can be. And he wasn't a game show host. He was the governor.
You gave this statement after resentencing. I tweeted it out. And then one of [Christie’s] old friends and political advisors, Bill Palatucci, tweeted back to me: “The government didn't believe her. The jury didn't believe her. The judge didn't believe her.” Given that, why should we believe what you’re saying now?
Because there's more questions than there are answers. And I have no reason to tell anything other than the truth. I could have said the governor, you know, they wanted to punish the mayor. I could have made up a really good story and gone with it. But I didn't.
My portfolio didn't include, you know, approval of traffic studies. I couldn't even order food for the [governor’s luxury] box at the Meadowlands or the Prudential Center without the governor's approval. I would have to show him the menu and he would help me choose the food. So if you think that I'm closing the lanes of the bridge or closing the George Washington Bridge, it's absurd. I didn't have that power.
One of the things [Christie] did is commission this approximately $11 million “Mastro Report.” This internal investigation ordered by Christie, paid for by taxpayers, was widely derided as quote—and excuse my language—“the slut-shaming of Bridget Kelly.” It said that you were somehow upset about having recently been dumped by Christie's former campaign manager, and you were not in maybe your right emotional state and that's why you would have done something like this. What was your immediate reaction if you remember after reading this?
It was visceral. First of all I've been through much worse than you know a romantic breakup and I didn't realign lanes at the George Washington Bridge [because of it]. There was a lot more said about me that was just so wrong and so hurtful, and it was designed to do so. I think it was designed to scare me. And it did, because it showed me the power of these people. Listen, I was low hanging fruit.
Unfortunately, it was a year too early for what has become #MeToo movement, because it falls square into that. Bill [Stepien] and I went out for a couple weeks. Big deal. That was the extent of it. It's not that I was heartbroken, and certainly if I was it's not coming to work with me. It's almost laughable now, if it didn't cost $11 million.
At the time that I was like bottom-of-the-barrel depressed, so scared, and now you're gonna do this to me, too? So they've done a lot of damage, and a lot of it is irreversible.
You described this week in another interview being driven out of your house after this all broke. What was that about?
My entire front lawn, front porch and my entire street I live on, one of the busiest streets in town, was covered with reporters, blanketed, so I couldn't pull up my driveway. So I went to my mom's, and her whole street is covered with reporters. I didn't know there were that many reporters. Matt, I gotta tell you, it was ridiculous. So I called the mayor at the time in Ramsey (New Jersey) and I asked him to please call the police chief to make sure my kids are safe.
It was surreal. I stayed at my aunt's for three days, and, then, at the advice of my first attorney I moved down to the shore, where I remained for about 10 to 12 days because I couldn't go home. My kids had to sneak in with my brother in the back door [of our house] with flashlights to get essentials. It was horrible. My dad had to put up blinds in my kitchen because people were parked on the backstreet with cameras. Kids were being followed to and from school. My daughter crashed her car in our driveway the day we came home because a photographer jumped out from behind a tree and she swerved to miss him—$5,000 damage to a brand new car. She had just gotten her license.
Have you worked at all [since the scandal broke]?
Little things here and there. People still are scared. They're not scared to hire Bridget Kelly. People are afraid because they don't know what others could do, and I've been told that.
Others being Chris Christie and his allies?
How are you preparing your kids for the now very real possibility that you're going to jail, barring [a pardon by President] Trump or a Supreme Court ruling?
I don't know that you can ever fully prepare. We're just spending time together and doing our best every day. They know that we have such a large community of family and friends that they'll be well taken care of. But we're gonna miss each other terribly.
Matt Katz reports on air at WNYC about immigration, refugees and national security. He wrote a book about Christie and Bridgegate called "American Governor: Chris Christie's Bridge to Redemption."
You can follow him on Twitter at @mattkatz00.