POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

NJ officials respond to overturned Bridgegate ruling

BY Joanna Gagis, Producer/Correspondent |

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was the political target in the Bridgegate scandal. He responded to the United States Supreme Court decision to overturn the convictions of two key players in the scandal: Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly.

“I think Congress needs to act here, because if the actions that were undertaken by these individuals don’t technically constitute a crime, then there’s something wrong with the system,” he said.

Kelly and Baroni faced jail time for their roles in the closure of the George Washington Bridge in 2013, in what Sokolich called a political retribution scheme for not endorsing then-Gov. Chris Christie’s reelection campaign.

While Baroni and Kelly no longer face time in prison, Sokolich believes justice was served.

“The highest court in the world unanimously held that the actions of these players, of these political operatives, was deceptive, corrupt, an abuse of power and that the evidence showed that. Whether or not an obscure criminal statute was broken or not, I leave that to greater minds. We in Fort Lee just wanted to make sure this never ever happens again,” Sokolich said.

But some are concerned the Supreme Court’s ruling won’t deter future political corruption schemes.

“Unfortunately, the language that Justice Kagan wrote will be cherry picked to make a case that improperly utilizing your government authority is OK. And clearly Justice Kagan took pains to make sure that she was indicating it was not OK. But that that’s not going to stop somebody from pointing to this case, as the governor has, and said ‘vindication.’ It’s not vindication when the U.S. Supreme court is calling what your appointees did, corrupt,” John Wisniewski, former head of the select oversight committee investigating Bridgegate, said.

Christie called the case a political crusade by former U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the Justice Department under President Barack Obama.

“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 by the prosecutorial misconduct and personal vindictiveness of Paul Fishman,” Christie said in a statement. “Fishman proceeded, motivated by political partisanship and blind ambition that cost the taxpayers millions in legal fees and changed the course of history.”

Christie referring to his failed presidential campaign that fell flat as reports of his ties to Bridgegate began to surface.

Fishman responded to Christie’s allegation, saying in a statement:

“It is stunning, but perhaps not surprising, that Chris Christie’s response is to concoct accusations of political ambition, partisanship, and personal vindictiveness. Chris Christie may try to rewrite his legacy – and he may want to rewrite history – but the fact remains that the ‘deception, corruption, and abuse of power’ was committed for precisely those reason by his team on his watch,” he said.

Fishman said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But Bridget Anne Kelly has maintained her innocence, insisting that she was a fall-guy in the scheme coordinated by those in power above her.

“Vindication in that I was charged with crimes that didn’t exist, yes. Vindication for going through something that I didn’t deserve to go through, no,” Kelly said.

She said the ruling will let her finally move on with her life. But Wisniewski says, not so fast. He’d like to see Attorney General Gurbir Grewal open an investigation now. The Office of the Attorney General offered no comment.