ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST, MSNBC HOST: And that is all for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ali. That was a fascinating segment. Those are really good guests on this subject. That was best discussion I`ve heard on this in a really long time.
VELSHI: Thank you, friend. You have a great weekend and great -- we got another day. Just have a great night.
MADDOW: I`m planning on having a good weekend. Don`t worry.
VELSHI: This is where my mind is. Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Ali.
And thank you at home for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.
We`re going to start with something tonight that`s a little bit off the beaten path, but there`s a good reason for it. Trust me. It starts with former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who you may have noticed has become sort of an odd figure in politics these days, particularly in Republican politics these days, in this era of the Trump presidency.
Chris Christie, of course, was thought of as being a strong contender for the Republican nomination in 2012, but he decided not to run in 2012. He did make a go for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, but nothing really seemed to come together for him that year. He sputtered out earlier than people thought he would.
He got only 2 percent of the vote in Iowa in 2016. He came in sixth place in New Hampshire, which is where he`d really been giving it his all. But just became clear pretty fast that there was no Republican appetite in 2016 for what he had to offer.
And then, interesting decision, Chris Christie saw the writing on the wall earlier than the rest of the Republican presidential contenders did. And as he dropped out of the race, again, early on, he endorsed Donald Trump and that was at a time when no prominent Republicans were fixing their cart to that particular horse. I mean, at the time, Chris Christie plighted his trough with Donald Trump, he was alone.
I mean, the closest Trump had to some other high profile endorsement at that time was failed 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani admitting publicly that, yes, OK, he`d admit it, he sometimes spoke to Trump by phone. I mean, even Rudy Giuliani was not willing to endorse that guy at that point in 2016, but Christie came right out and did. And it was an unusual decision. And everybody assumed that maybe some of the political logic there was that Christie was gunning for the attorney general gig, or maybe even the vice president gig, or some other huge role in the Trump administration in the unlikely event that Donald Trump would win the presidency.
Ultimately, Christie did get put in charge of building the Trump transition team, but only as long as they thought he wouldn`t -- they thought they wouldn`t actually need it. They put Chris Christie in charge of the Trump transition in May 2016, only six months before the election happen. Once Trump actually won the election and really did need a transition team, they took that job away from Chris Christie. They threw all his work out the window and actually became sort of a triumphant Steve Bannon/Jared Kushner anecdote from the Trump campaign.
That time right after they won when they fired Chris Christie and literally threw away, threw in the trash can, all the materials and all the planning that Christie had done to plan for the transition of power and setting up the new administration. He`d been doing the work on the transition for six months. As soon as they got in there, they fired him and got rid of all of his work.
Oh, Chris Christie explicitly warned us against Mike Flynn being national security adviser. Christie says he wouldn`t let General Flynn into the White House, let alone give him a job. Well, neener, neener, we`ll show that Chris Christie, we`ll swear in Mike Flynn as national security adviser. Yes, what could possibly go wrong?
And would Christie, himself, get a top-tier job in the new Trump administration? Nope. No thanks. Thanks for that early brave endorsement, though. Thanks for all your work that we reveled in telling the press that we threw out. Thanks for everything. Bye.
Chris Christie does have a TV contract. He did write a book that says not one negative word about Donald Trump. In some other settings, he`s occasionally mildly critical of the administration.
But it`s interesting, mostly he is just unattached. This guy who was, you know, definitely going to be a top-tier contender in 2012 had he run, who was in the top tier of national serious Republican politics for a decade, right, now he`s like this little floating free radical out there who nobody has any link to. In a way that really is odd in this era.
But if there`s one thing that most explains why that is, why that worked out that way, it may be Bridgegate. Do you remember Bridgegate? I know it was years ago.
But it turns out there is now a really interesting twist, right at the end here. And you probably remember the basics of the story, right? Some of the first newspaper ink that was devoted to Bridgegate came in the form of a local traffic column in the "Bergen Record" in New Jersey.
It was September 13th, 2013. The local traffic columnist wrote up a weird and unusually terrible week for commuters who were trying to drive from New Jersey to New York. This was the photo that ran with the story. And you can see if you look closely, see there`s a guy there standing in the middle of the traffic right next to the cones. It`s not like he`s a cop or anybody official. He`s just a dude in khakis and a blue shirt standing to the side of his own car just trying to figure out what it was that had completely stopped traffic getting onto the nation`s most heavily trafficked bridge, the George Washington Bridge, from the New Jersey town of Ft. Lee toward New York City.
The traffic was so stopped you could park and get out of your car. The traffic was so stopped, it was completely stopped, not moving at all, for hours and hours and hours. That column about the traffic jam on the bridge in Ft. Lee, that ran on a Friday, but actually, the traffic had been like that all week long.
It had started on that Monday. It went on day after day that week. It not only stopped traffic onto the bridge, that traffic jam for traffic getting onto the bridge, it gridlocked all of the surface streets in the town of Ft. Lee, New Jersey, in that whole town. With hundreds of cars backed up onto that town`s streets, all of them for hours with nowhere to go, not just during rush hour, but hours beyond. Coming and going.
And it was more than just a nuisance or a quirk. EMS response times ballooned as a result of that weird unusual and unnatural traffic. Paramedics were delayed in reaching an unconscious 91-year-old woman. That woman later died of cardiac arrest at the hospital. Emergency responders were late emergency responders were late in getting to the home of a person who called 911 complaining of chest pains because of standstill traffic on Route 46 East in Ft. Lee, New Jersey, traffic that was a result of the backup at the bridge.
Among the people caught in the massive traffic jam were police who were assigned to look for a 4-year-old boy who had gone missing. That traffic jam had started on a Monday. That Monday was also the first day of school that year. And so on day one of the school year, school buses were late getting thousands of kids to school for their first day at school. And that was Monday and then it went on like that all week with no relief whatsoever.
Now, this might have been an unfortunate story about an inexplicable unusually bad traffic jam were it not for the fact it became clear pretty quickly that it was manmade and apparently deliberately manmade.
The Port Authority, which runs the bridge, put out a statement saying that the whole mess did not happen organically, it was the result of a traffic study. Problem was, local officials who would be in a position to know if that were true said they weren`t buying that, they don`t think that`s what actually happened. The police chief, for example, told the "Bergen Record," quote, "It`s not true."
When the mayor of Ft. Lee was asked about the situation, he responded by saying, quote, "I asked the port authority for an explanation but they haven`t responded. I thought we had a good relationship. Now I`m beginning to wonder if there`s something I did wrong. Am I being sent some sort of message?"
"The Bergen Record" and other New Jersey media outlets and later obtained a flood of evidence showing that, in fact, this looked very much like the mayor of Ft. Lee, New Jersey, was being sent some kind of message. That evidence included an email sent by Governor Christie`s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, on August 13th, 2013, about a month before the bridge closures.
That email was sent by Bridget Kelly to one of Governor Chris Christie`s top guys at the Port Authority, a guy named David Wildstein. David Wildstein was the Christie appointee who initially issued that bogus explanation that some sort of traffic study was to blame for the gridlock. Wildstein was the same Christie appointee who gave the orders to close those lanes onto that bridge which caused the gridlock. Wildstein was the same political appointee we later learned had given specific instructions to bridge employees not to warn the local police or the town of Ft. Lee what was about to hit them in terms of this traffic Armageddon.
But that email sent is to him by Christie`s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, on August 13th, about a month before the lane closures said, quote, "Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee." David Wildstein responded, "Got it."
About three weeks later on September 6th, David Wildstein called one of the Port Authority`s directors to inform him that that coming Monday, these lane closures would take place on the bridge. That guy from the port authority said that was a very unusual call because traffic disruptions on major facilities like the George Washington Bridge, those things are typically planned years in advance. You wouldn`t get notified, hey, this is going to happen on Monday.
The George Washington Bridge manager says Wildstein instructed him not to tell anyone about it, not even Ft. Lee police.
When David Wildstein received information in response, when he was told in response that this was going to be a disaster, this was going be a catastrophe, he shrugged off those warnings. He said we should go ahead. The warnings, of course, turned out to be spot-on because as designed, when the traffic lanes onto that bridge got shut down, everything in Ft. Lee, New Jersey, went straight to heck.
As the chaos was taking hold, the mayor of Ft. Lee started pleading by phone, by text, by email. He was contacting Bill Baroni, who was David Wildstein`s boss at the Port Authority. He was another Chris Christie appointee.
The mayor of Ft. Lee and other officials were complaining about really serious stuff. They`re complaining about ambulances being delayed and trying to get to people who are having heart attacks. I mean, email showed that the mayor and others were purposely met with, quote, "radio silence."
David Wildstein forwarded a complaint from the Ft. Lee mayor to Bridget Anne Kelly over at Chris Christie`s office. The mayor said he was frustrated that school buses couldn`t get kids to their first day of school. Bridget Kelly`s response, quote, "Is it wrong that I`m smiling?" Wildstein`s response, "No, no, it`s not wrong that you`re smiling." Kelly, "I feel badly about the kids, I guess." David Wildstein responds, "They are the children of Buono voters." Meaning Barbara Buono, who is the Democratic candidate who was running against Chris Christie for governor when he ran for re-election that year.
I mean, privately, all these messages were being sent back and forth about causing problems in that town of Ft. Lee, about greeting their panicked cries for help with radio silence, about the pleasure these Christie staffers and appointees were taking in the pain they were causing, the children of Democratic voters. That was what was happening privately.
Publicly, the message was, oh, this is just a traffic study, is it causing trouble? Hmm? I mean, two months later in November of that year, Bill Baroni, Christie`s top appointee at the port authority, David Wildstein`s boss, he ended up testifying before the state assembly in New Jersey.
It was a two-hour performance. He tried to sell the legislature this cover story of what had really happened with the bridge. He tried to sell them that it had been a traffic study even though that was a made-up cover story.
Now, throughout all of this, Governor Christie and his top spokesman, Michael Drewniak, they repeatedly said that Governor Christie didn`t bother with decisions as trivial as traffic jams. The governor, himself, even joked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I worked the cones, actually. Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there. I was in overalls and a hat so, I wasn`t -- I actually was the guy working the cones out there. You really are not serious with that question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: After that, though, things started to unravel pretty quickly. A few days after Christie joked that he was the one out there working the cones, David Wildstein submitted his resignation from the Port Authority. A week after David Wildstein resigned from the Port Authority, Christie`s other even more senior appointee there, Bill Baroni, he also quit. And then those emails came out, including the one calling for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee, at which point Governor Christie stopped joking around about it and got serious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: This morning, I`ve terminated the employment of Bridget Kelly, effective immediately. I terminated her employment because she lied to me. I have not had any conversation with Bridget Kelly since the email came out, and so she was not given the opportunity to explain to me why she lied because it was so obvious that she had. And I`m, quite frankly, not interested in the explanation at the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: "I`m not interested in the explanation." but, you know, she sure as heck must have concocted this whole thing herself.
During that same press conference, reporters pushed hard, right, asking questions as to whether this really was what it was starting to look like, whether this was really the governor`s staff and appointees shutting down access to this huge bridge, the busiest bridge in the country, purposely gridlocking a whole town for days and days and days, just to punish the Ft. Lee mayor, Mark Sokolich, for his grave political crime of refusing to endorse Chris Christie in his re-election effort.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: As I`ve said to you all many times before, Mayor Sokolich was never on my radar screen. I don`t remember meeting Mayor Sokolich until I saw his picture last night on television, I wouldn`t have been able to pick him out of a lineup.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I wouldn`t have been able to pick him out of a lineup. Might I suggest he`s the one who should be in the lineup?
Even if you accept that the governor might not have been able to pick the Ft. Lee mayor out of a lineup, his staff definitely could. Mayor Sokolich later told reporters he`d been courted for two years to endorse Chris Christie for re-election, heading into that November 2013 election, the Christie team was not just trying to get Christie to win, that was basically a foregone conclusion in New Jersey politics at that time.
They were trying to run up the score, trying to get him as big an overall number in the election as possible and specifically, they wanted to get him as much crossover Democratic support as possible because they thought that would set him up well for a national presidential run in 2016. Wouldn`t that be a great story to tell?
Part of that strategy was to get mayors of New Jersey towns, particularly Democratic mayors, to publicly throw their support behind Chris Christie. Well, ahead of the bridge lane shutdown, Mayor Sokolich said a member of the governor`s office of intergovernmental affairs, a young guy named Matt Mowers would repeatedly meet with him and tell him about other Democrats who are endorsing Chris Christie.
Quote: "On at least three occasions, Mayor Sokolich said Mowers brought up the subject of Sokolich`s possible endorsement." So, clearly, he was -- he was on their radar and definitely on their radar during the lane closures with Wildstein insisting anything from the mayor complaining about what was happening to his town, any complaints should be greeted with, quote, "radio silence".
But beyond that, behind the scenes, everybody really seemed to be having a hoot at the mayor`s expense. A few days after the closures, David Wildstein sent a press report about the traffic jam to Bill Stepien, who was Chris Christie`s campaign manager at the time for his re-election effort.
Mr. Stepien read and wrote back, quote: It`s fine. The mayor`s an idiot.
Wildstein emailed Bill Stepien that, quote: It will be a tough November for this little Serbian, an apparent reference to Mayor Sokolich, even though he`s not Serbian. He`s of Croatian descent, and that`s a sort of thing that people tend to mind, getting those screwed up.
Just days after the bridge lane shutdown, Christie`s spokesman Michael Drewniak was fielding inquiries from reporters. When the Christie appointees at the port authority started to freak out to the press about it, we got more evidence how they felt about this whole thing. David Wildstein texted Bill Baroni: Hey, "The Wall Street Journal" called my cell phone." Bill Baroni responds, "Jesus." Less than a minute later, "call Drewniak", call Governor Christie`s spokesman.
In the whole sea of emails and texts that were eventually uncovered in the scandal, we learned the governor`s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, the governor`s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, the governor`s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, his top two appointees at the Port Authority, that`s David Wildstein and Bill Baroni, another direct aide of the governor, Matt Mowers, his director of government of relations, Christina Renna, the governor`s then chief of staff, Kevin O`Dowd, they were all at least somewhat in the loop on this crisis while it was still under way and immediately thereafter.
And yet, here was Christie in December.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: There was nobody on my staff who had any knowledge of this issue until after the issue was already done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Months later, Governor Christie`s office would commission their own million-dollar internal report to investigate the Bridgegate matter, get to the bottom of it. Taxpayers would pay. He`d have one of Rudy`s best friends do it.
That report had a very similar through line from the governor`s press conference from back in January. I said December, but January. The one where he said that he had fired Bridget Kelly and he was not interested in any of her explanations. That internal report commissioned by Christie`s office was mostly greeted as a laughingstock in part because it`s so emphatically cleared Governor Christie of anything and everything you could have used it to recommend him for sainthood to the Vatican.
It was also greeted as a laughingstock, frankly, because the report, I kid you not, went out of its way to blame the bridge scandal without explanation on purported difficulties in Bridget Kelly`s love life which I`m sure these guys enjoyed detailing in that report. But the relevance to the governor`s scandal involving the bridge was quite hard to see.
A New Jersey legislative committee also investigated. They decided they couldn`t decide. They said they couldn`t find conclusive evidence either way as to whether Christie knew about the lane closures in advance.
A third investigation was a federal criminal investigation brought by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. That investigation did not charge Governor Christie, but it wasn`t exactly kind to him. In that investigation, David Wildstein pled guilty. He agreed to testify against Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly.
Baroni and Kelly were indicted. Federal prosecutors, again, weren`t charging Christie at that trial but they started the trial with what "The New York Times" called an unexpected and startling opening statement. It they acknowledged right off the bat on the outside of the trial that Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey knew three of his top officials were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him.
I mean, look at that page 1 headline in "The New York Times." Chris Christie knew about bridge lane closings as they happened, U.S. asserts. Prosecutors say, Christie knew after the bridge plot as it happened.
Prosecutors say David Wildstein and Bill Baroni had bragged to Governor Christie about the lane closings at a Memorial Service on 9/11. We had previously seen a photo of the three of them sort of yakking it up on September 11th at the World Trade Center. That was the third day of the lane closures.
During Wildstein`s testimony, he said that he and Baroni were boasting to Governor Christie about how the lane closures had been done to mess with Mayor Sokolich in Ft. Lee, and how the mayor`s call and texts were being deliberately ignored. Now, Baroni contested that on the stand, but Baroni was convicted at trial.
Bridget Kelly was also convicted at trial. She testified for her part that she believed that the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. And she testified she told Christie about the plan on August 12th, a day before she sent that email calling for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee. She testified she told Christie in advance the closures would cause tremendous traffic problems for Ft. Lee.
She says Christie approved it, anyway. She says she talked to Christie about the lane closures twice while they were under way and one of those times she passed along Mayor Sokolich had asked whether the traffic problems were brought about as some sort of form of government retribution.
Now, I should tell you we reached out to Governor Christie for this story. He did not respond to us directly. He did issue a statement yesterday saying, quote: As I have said before, I had no knowledge of this scheme prior to or during these lane realignments and had no role in authorizing them. No credible evidence was ever presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary is simply untrue.
He sent that statement generally yesterday, he sent it to us specifically today.
Ahead of their sentencing, after Baroni and Kelly were convicted, prosecutors argued that neither Bill Baroni nor Bridget Kelly should be shown leniency because neither of them had been fully truthful on the stand.
Well, now, we`re learning how this ends. It turns out getting some twists in the plot at the very end. Bill Baroni got sentenced to 18 months behind bars in federal prison. He reported to prison earlier this month to start serving his sentence.
Just yesterday, Bridget Anne Kelly was sentenced as well. She was sentenced to 13 months. She is appealing her conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And it is striking that all of the people apparently tangled up in this mess, of all of them, only two of them are going to prison. But what`s even more striking is that some of them are not just avoiding prison, they`re really thriving in the Trump era. Bill Stepien, Chris Christie`s campaign manager, his name came up hundreds of times at the Bridgegate trial.
He ran the overall effort for Christie`s re-election effort to get all the Democratic mayors to endorse Christie. Wildstein testified that he told Bill Stepien all about the plan for Ft. Lee and the bridge and why they were doing it and even he told him about the whole traffic study cover story. He says he told Stepien about it all in advance.
Christie cut ties with Bill Stepien when the scandal broke open. Bill Stepien`s doing great now. He was appointed White House political director for President Trump. He`s now moved on to become a senior figure in the Trump re-election campaign.
Matt Mowers, the guy who repeatedly pursued the Ft. Lee mayor`s endorsement until the mayor didn`t bite and then he had to be punished, Matt Mowers ended up at the Trump State Department. He`s now starting a consulting company and also plans to be working on the president`s re-election effort.
Ex-Governor Chris Christie, well, you know, he`s floating around out there, doing OK. That said, this scandal has stuck to him a little bit like a little tippy (ph) on the shoe heel.
But Bridget Kelly, she got sentenced yesterday. She`s now about to report to federal prison unless the president, himself, or the Supreme Court intervenes in her case. And now, she says there`s something that you should know about this whole fiasco that you definitely haven`t heard about before, something that has not been any part of this news story before.
But Bridget Kelly was just sentenced to federal prison yesterday. She`s here tonight in studio and will join us here live. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIDGET ANNE KELLY, FORMER AIDE TO GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: The fact that I am here in place of others from the Christie administration and the governor, himself, does not prove my guilt. It only proves that justice is not blind. During the seven-week trial, over and over, we heard the names of many of the governor`s closest associates, and we repeatedly heard the name of Governor Chris Christie. How did all these men escape justice?
Chris Christie was allowed, without rebuttal from anyone, to say out of one side of his mouth that I was a low-level staffer, a woman only good enough to plan menus and invite people to events. Then say out of the other side of his mouth that I was somehow powerful to shut down the George Washington Bridge. There is only one person, only one, and he was powerful enough to approve this act.
Just because someone has the title of governor doesn`t give them the right to mislead others. It`s dishonorable. And it only shows that person for the coward he is.
You need to know that I will not remain quiet any longer. Mr. Christie, you are a bully and the days of you calling me a liar and destroying my life are over. The truth will be heard, and for the former governor, that truth will be inescapable regardless of lucrative television deals or even future campaigns. I plan to make sure of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bridget Anne Kelly speaking on the courthouse steps after receiving a prison sentence yesterday in federal court for her role in the Bridgegate scandal that A, was a sensation a few years ago, B, was a crime, C, is going to result in her and Bill Baroni serving prison time, and D, it is something that arguably ended the political career of one of the most ambitious and savvy Republican politicians of his generation, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
As Bridget Kelly gets ready to start serving her federal prison sentence, here`s something new to know about how that all went down. We covered the story extensively around the time that it was unfolding. This is a part of it that I never knew before today. The day the bridge scandal really broke wide open in the press and it, honestly, became clear that people were going to go to jail for this thing, was the day the news broke that Bridget Kelly had sent this email: Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee.
On the same morning that story broke, on that morning, Bridget Kelly, governor`s deputy chief of staff, she was told to not come to work. She says that evening she got a phone call from someone that told her that he would be her new lawyer. Now, Kelly did not name that attorney in court, but she`s now willing to say it was this man, Walter Timpone. Now, we have no way to independently verify that it was, indeed, Mr. Timpone that called Bridget Kelly at home that night. But we`ll talk to her about that in just a moment.
But you should that Walter Timpone was somebody very well-known to Governor Christie. Timpone was a former federal prosecutor. He was a prominent attorney at a law firm with deep ties to Governor Christie. The managing partner at Timpone`s firms had served on Governor Christie`s transition team. In 2010, Chris Christie appointed Walter Timpone to be a commissioner on the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
And on January 8th, when this story broke open, this lawyer from within the Christie orbit called Bridget Anne Kelly unsolicited to offer to be her lawyer in the then exploding Bridgegate scandal which all of a sudden looked like it was very clearly going to be a criminal matter and not just a political scandal. Now, she said during her testimony that he told her in that call that he was, quote, told to contact her.
She also testified that he told her that, quote, a job would be found for me, I didn`t have to worry about anything and it would be OK. Bridget Kelly says she greeted that call with relief.
She then proceeded as if this was going to be her new lawyer. She told her attorney every detail about the case. You know, whew, finally somebody I can give all this stuff to. And then lo and behold, she says he quickly turned around and told her he wasn`t going to be her lawyer after all.
But this was after she had given him everything she had to offer related to this scandal. Everything she had to say about this scandal. Everything she planned to use in her defense. Everything that she might be able to testify to when it came to anybody else involved in this scandal. He got all of that from her and then he bailed and told her that he wouldn`t be her lawyer after all.
Little over two weeks after his initial phone call to her, he told "The Star Ledger", quote, I am out. I have a conflict with the Election Law Enforcement Commission which would prohibit me from voting on anything involving a senator, assemblyman, or host of others which would close down the LLC, so I`m gone.
Wouldn`t he know about that kind of a conflict before he called Bridget Kelly in the first place? You would think so.
In any case, you should also know that Governor Chris Christie later appointed that same lawyer, Walter Timpone, to the New Jersey State Supreme Court. At his swearing in ceremony, Christie said that Wally Timpone had, quote, been an extraordinarily good friend, and in the business that I`m in, having an extraordinary friend is a gift.
Mr. Timpone later responded by saying, quote, the governor has been a loyal friend for 15 years. I just really, really like knowing him.
We reached out to now-New Jersey State Supreme Court Justice Timpone. He had no comment for us. We also reached out to Governor Christie who did not comment to us on this aspect of the story.
And honestly, you know, who knows what happened here? All of these details might be absolutely coincidental. But it goes to show you that sometimes stories like this just don`t end with all the small fries going to jail and all the big fish moving on happily. Sometimes these stories keep telling new parts of themselves right to the end and even beyond.
Joining us here in the studio is Bridget Anne Kelly. She was deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. She was just sentenced yesterday to 13 months in federal prison for her role in the Bridgegate scandal.
I should tell you, she`s appealing her conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ms. Kelly, thanks for joining us tonight. Thanks for being with us.
KELLY: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know it takes -- I know it takes courage to come out and talk at this point in your life. I don`t really know where to start. Let me just ask you first how you are.
KELLY: I think I`m in shock. It`s been a really long 5-1/2 years --
KELLY: -- from going --from going to the initial days of not knowing to what was going to happen to then the investigation to then being indicted and then the trial and then being convicted and then being sentenced for the first time.
You know, these are things I never thought in my life I would have to experience and more importantly, I have four children that had to experience them with me.
KELLY: You know, I can handle a lot of things, but when your life`s on the front page of most major newspapers and you can`t go to the grocery store without somebody saying something positive or negative, it was tough. And it was, really, as hard as it was on me, watching my children go through it has been the hardest.
MADDOW: In terms of that news coverage, I`ve been a big part of that. I covered the whole scandal way more aggressively than anybody else --
KELLY: I know that.
MADDOW: -- on TV news. And I`m happy that we did it. I don`t have any regrets about our coverage.
And I think that we elucidated a lot of stuff about the story --
MADDOW: -- as it was unfolding.
Have to ask you if there`s -- now that we`re here, if there`s any aspects of the way I reported on the story over the years, even the way I explained it tonight, that you disagree with or you want to take me to task on?
KELLY: No. When I just met you, I said you`ve done your homework. I mean, you really -- which is great. I mean, it`s -- for me, I didn`t watch a lot of it, you or anyone else just because it wasn`t healthy for me.
KELLY: I was living it. And trying to make our life as normal as possible in a very abnormal time.
You know, a couple things that the Mastro report just was not a million dollars, was $11 million.
MADDOW: Eleven million.
KELLY: Eleven, or just shy of $11 million. But it`s a lot of money.
MADDOW: Taxpayer money.
KELLY: Correct. To basically shame me. It was a year before the #MeToo Movement, but if it fell under that, it is absolutely that. What they did to me with that report is sinful. Unfortunately, you know, nobody took notes.
I mean, there was -- I know you covered this at one point, just because I was then angry, you know, when it was, I believe that, you know, the email -- I know the email came out January 8th. That report, I believe, was issued March 24th. That`s a really fast investigation.
KELLY: Of what?
KELLY: You know, there was no notes to show for it and whatnot. So that would be the only, you know, thing to me that I think it`s important the amount of money that was spent on that. It was -- it was absurd.
MADDOW: And the -- I mean, aside from what really seemed like extraneous prurient detail accusing you of complicity in the scandal, specifically because of things going on in your personal life, which I alluded to was -- I mean, it`s part of the reason nobody took that report seriously.
The other reason nobody took it seriously is because it sung the praises of Governor Christie and didn`t just exonerate him, like, literally went out of its way to praise him during the conduct of this thing.
You said since your sentencing, that there is only one person who could have approved this scheme with the bridge, the only person in a position to do that was governor Christie, himself. He has repeatedly denied that he had any prior knowledge of the lane closures. He gave us a statement tonight saying he had no role in authorizing the lane closures, and there`s no credible evidence otherwise.
What credible evidence do you have to refute him on that?
KELLY: It`s conversations. I mean, we had -- I let him know -- so David Wildstein and the governor go way back. You know, I think high school, 15 years, you know, they were 15 years old when they met. I`m not sure if they`re the same age or within a year or two of each other.
So, that relationship between the governor and David Wildstein, you know, exceeded my relationship with either one of them.
MADDOW: And Wildstein was one who came up with this whole for the bridge.
KELLY: Correct. I will be clear. As much as my email: Time for traffic problems in Ft. Lee, as bad as that looks, if I use the word, traffic study, which is exactly what I believed it to be, I wouldn`t be sitting here. I wouldn`t be going to jail in, you know, a couple of months.
David had said there was going to be major traffic as a result of this study. The logic David gave to me, and I live in New Jersey, obviously, and take the bridge often, he explained that the 12 lanes, three were for 5 percent of the traffic coming from Ft. Lee, and 9 were for 95 percent of the traffic.
So, as you mentioned in your beginning, was that making sure Governor Christie did well in November with large numbers from all over the state of New Jersey was important. And I knew that. That was just everybody in the office knew that.
But David was explaining that 95 percent of the North Jersey commuters are going to move faster over the bridge. And that Chris Christie could have an event with Governor Cuomo to tout the success of the study and do it right before the election and show, look at this, look at what I did.
So, because everything was around making Governor Christie look better in 2013 --
KELLY: -- you know, that`s how this all evolved. And everything that was done was about Christie looking good in everyone`s eyes.
MADDOW: Regardless of the exact phrasing of your email --
MADDOW: -- you clearly knew this was going to destroy Ft. Lee. That this was going to gridlock Ft. Lee.
KELLY: I -- no. I knew there was going to be problems. I didn`t know it was going to destroy Ft. Lee. Absolutely not.
MADDOW: What about the emails you`re expressing, oh, is it bad that I`m smiling hearing about the school buses being stuck? I mean, clearly, you were aware in advance that there was going to be problems --
MADDOW: -- caused by what you were doing. Then you expressed some glee about the consequences of what you did.
KELLY: So the Port Authority existed in the Christie administration almost as its own entity. It was its own -- I mean, I don`t want to use the word, patronage pit, but that`s essentially what it was. But it was a political arm of the governor`s office.
And I know they`re trying to clean it up now, but at the time, it was used as a political machine. So, whatever moneys they had to go into communities, they`d make sure it was going in there. So, the Port Authority was allowed to kind of do what they wanted.
It was David Samson, Bill, and David Wildstein and they kind of --
MADDOW: All appointees of Christie.
KELLY: All appointees of Christie`s. And the way that -- I know you`ve broken this down over time. The way the Port Authority works, the governor of New York gets the executive director appointee, New Jersey gets the deputy and chairman of the Port Authority.
KELLY: So there were three Christie people at the Port Authority, it was kind of carte blanche. I mean, it really was, they --
MADDOW: You knew what you were doing was going to hurt Ft. Lee.
KELLY: I knew there was going to be traffic problems.
MADDOW: Why did you express glee about the --
KELLY: It wasn`t, so --
MADDOW: That I`m smiling? I mean --
KELLY: I understand. On its face, and if I could rewrite these, I absolutely would.
MADDOW: I`m not asking you for why you got in trouble for them.
MADDOW: I`m asking you --
KELLY: I was validating David. So I worked in a world full of men and they were very strong and very intimidating men.
David liked to be right. And he had said, this was going to cause traffic problems, this was going to be an issue and I validated him.
Honestly, Rachel, if I could go back and rewrite those things, tone and tenor can`t be told in a text message. And I -- it`s one of my biggest regrets, obviously.
MADDOW: I want to talk to you more about what you said today and the last 24 hours about Governor Christie, also about this interesting new sequence of events we`re talking about with this New Jersey Supreme Court justice.
Thanks for being with us.
KELLY: Thank you.
MADDOW: Bridget Anne Kelly is our guest. We`ll be back with her right after this.
MADDOW: We`re back with Bridget Anne Kelly. She was deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at the time of the Bridgegate scandal. She`s just been sentenced to federal prison for her role in that scandal. She`s appealing her conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bridget, thank you for staying with us.
KELLY: Thank you.
MADDOW: So you have now recounted a story in which a lawyer approached you as this scandal was really breaking open. Your email, "Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee," is in every headline, every newspaper in the country. You get a call from a lawyer that night who says he can represent you.
As far as I understand this, correct me if I`m wrong, you share all the relevant details of your case, you share basically what you have to say about the Bridgegate matter and then two weeks later, he says, thanks, but I`m not going to represent you anymore, I have a conflict and you never hear from him again.
KELLY: So if I could just kind of --
KELLY: -- explain a little more how that happened.
So, on January 8th, the email came out. I was driving to work. I was told not to come into work. I had to reach -- I reached out to all my superiors trying to figure out, like, what`s happening, this is insane.
KELLY: Like, it just -- nothing was making sense because conversations prior to that, you know, everything`s going to be fine, you`re good, don`t worry about it.
So things weren`t playing out the way I had been told they were expected to. So, I didn`t go to work that day but I couldn`t go home, and because my house was covered with media. I mean, it was -- it was horrible.
MADDOW: You were national news everywhere in the country.
KELLY: Yes. Yes. And so -- not fun.
And so I went to my parents` and their house, their whole street was covered. So I called my aunt, I said I need to come to your house, I need to go somewhere, and I was shaking. I mean, I was petrified.
I go to my aunt`s and my phone`s ringing off the hook with all sorts of stuff and my email address, by the way, is on national news, firstname.lastname@example.org. So, I was getting horrible emails and whatnot.
So I get a message from -- I wasn`t answering the phone, obviously, because all these numbers. It was 973 Morristown number.
I listened to the message and it was, Bridget, this is Wally Timpone: I was told to give you a call, I`m an attorney. There`s some people worried about you. We want to make sure you`re OK. Please give me a call.
So, it was early afternoon. So, I, you know, go downstairs. I said to my mom and dad, because I`m at my aunt`s house now, the kids, we got them home from school and everything. I said, oh, I said, an attorney just called me -- because I don`t know if I need a criminal attorney, I`ve never -- I`ve never -- I don`t know.
And so, he said he was a criminal defense attorney. And -- or defense attorney. And I said to my mom, you know, he said on the message that people are worried about me and he was told to give me a call. She goes, uh-huh. You know, just -- mother`s intuition.
And so I called -- so he must have -- he left another message. I finally called him back and he told me that he had spoken to Michelle Brown, who was one of the governor`s closest associates and that she and others were worried about me and knew I was going to need an attorney. And he`d like to help me out.
And so I was like, oh, OK, this is great. I mean, I didn`t know. So I went and met with him a day or two later, I was -- he negotiated the whole -- I wanted to resign because I just -- I thought that I should be afforded that opportunity.
MADDOW: Right, rather than be fired. Yes.
KELLY: Because that was embarrassing, they wouldn`t let me resign.
So, on the morning of the 9th, I knew that then brand-new chief counsel Chris Perino and Paul Matey who`s now on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, they called and told me I was terminated and I was not to -- you know, I had to turn off my phone, all that kind of stuff, turn everything in.
So, then, Wally said, why don`t we meet the following day. So, I think that was a Thursday and -- or perhaps it was a Friday. It was a Friday. So I go down to Newark and I meet him. And my brother came with me.
My brother said you know, if you were kind of told to give my sister a call, how do we know you have her best interests? Promise you I do, I do.
I also said to Wally, the first time we spoke, I said I Googled you and you`re on the Election Law Enforcement Commission. If we have to appear before the legislative committee, how can you represent me?
MADDOW: You raised the issue of potential --
KELLY: The first time. I worked in the legislature. I know what ELEC is.
KELLY: I don`t know how anyone could go appear in front of the very people you`re looking at their ELEC reports to see where their money came in, but you`re going to represent me. He said, no problem. Don`t worry about it. So, I didn`t worry about it.
But my brother comes with me the first day, asks that question, you know, attorney/client privilege. Assured us we were going to be, I was going to be OK.
I was hesitant though because my mom you know, you have that in the back of your head. And so I didn`t tell him everything. I told him a lot but not everything.
So, I met with him a second time because I`m still also petrified. I have no idea what`s happening. No one`s talking to me, no one`s calling me back, friends, people that I used the word friend for.
I go down another time to see him in his Morristown office and my father said one more time. How do we know? We met with almost all the firm, all the partners. How do we know you have Bridget`s best interests? Don`t worry, she`s going to be OK, she`s going to be fine.
At that the point, I moved to the beach to a friend`s house because I couldn`t go anywhere and I wasn`t safe and it was horrible. A couple days later, I get -- I don`t know if I read it online or I got an e-mail or a call from him and he said, I`m out. You know, I have this conflict with ELEC.
I said, wait, what do you mean? In the meantime, somebody saw it in the press and my ex-husband called me and said, listen, I have this firm. That is who I --
MADDOW: So, but you had raised with him the issue of the conflict that he later --
KELLY: I did, the first time we spoke.
MADDOW: And in the interim, you met with him and talked about your case and told him about your defense plans.
KELLY: Well, I didn`t. I was developing. I was telling him parts of what I -- you know, what he was asking. But I was telling him, yes, I was downloading to him.
MADDOW: Why weren`t you able to name him during the trial?
KELLY: I tried.
MADDOW: What do you mean.
KELLY: I mean, I told the story during the trial but every so often you get objected to and then it`s sustained. And then --
MADDOW: And now Chris Christie named him to be a New Jersey Supreme Court justice.
MADDOW: Bridget Kelly, former deputy chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie -- you are still in the throes of this. And I appreciate you being here. I covered this within an inch of its life, including your role in this.
And I understand why you were convicted and I also understand why you`re fighting it. But your decision to keep talking about and elucidate the other parts of this is brave. Thank you for doing it here.
KELLY: Thank you for letting me.
MADDOW: Good luck.
KELLY: Take care. Thank you so much.
All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: An unexpected last minute fight has broken out between federal prosecutors and lawyers for Maria Butina who pled guilty in December to acting as a Russian agent in the U.S. while she was networking with the NRA and other American conservative circles. The fight that`s broken out is about a declaration from the former assistant director of the counterintelligence division at the FBI. He`s a 20-year veteran of the FBI, a guy named Robert Anderson. He`s a well-known figure in the world of counterintelligence and FBI.
Maria Butina`s lawyer say his declaration what she did and what she`s pled to shouldn`t be allowed to be part of her sentencing tomorrow. And it`s not hard to see why they don`t want the judge considering this when the judge hands down Butina`s sentence.
Here`s a little sample of what Anderson has to say. Quote: As part of its larger efforts to the target the U.S., Russia has engaged and continues to engage in spot-and-assess operations. A spot-and-assess operation is as intelligence operation that seeks to identify individuals who could potentially be recruited as an intelligence asset or source at a later date. In my expert opinion, Butina`s activities in the U.S. from 2015 to 2017 fit the classic pattern of a spot-and-assess operation.
Butina collected information about numerous American citizens who she believed had access to and influence was senior levels of the U.S. government. Butina compiled information about these individuals in reports that were sent back to a high ranking Russian government official. In my expert opinion, Butina provided the Russian federation with information that skilled intelligence officers can exploit for years and that may cause significant damage to the United States.
That declaration`s description of the counterintelligence threat to the United States from the kinds of operations that Russia has been running in this country targeting politically connected people in this country -- I mean, that is hair raising in part because of what it says about the contacts that Maria Butina made through the NRA and in conservative and Republican circles, right? But it`s also directly relevant to all of the surreptitious contacts that Russian officials and Russian figures made with the Trump campaign and with the Trump transition and the Trump administration.
So this declaration about the kinds of harm that can come to the United States when Russia builds those kinds of relationships with people associated with U.S. politics particularly when there are surreptitious relationships, that is stark stuff at this point given we`re seven days out from the redacted Mueller report.
Well, the fight over whether or not that document could be admitted in court was resolved today. That declaration from the former top counterintelligence official at the FBI will be admissible for her sentencing. That means it`s possible that we might see that FBI expert actually testify at her sentencing in open court tomorrow. But Butina`s sentencing hearing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. in federal district court tomorrow in D.C. It should be worth watching.
That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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