David Wildstein speaks during a hearing at the Statehouse in Trenton, Jan. 9, 2014. Mel Evans/AP Photo
A key figure in the corruption scandal that threatens New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s political career is poised to plead guilty in federal court today, sources told ABC News.
Word of David Wildstein’s expected guilty plea was confirmed this morning by officials familiar with the situation, sources said.
The plea of the former Port Authority executive and one-time political blogger, who went to high school with Christie, would mark a dramatic step in the saga swirling around Christie.
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The corruption probe that started with unannounced closings of access lanes at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 has, according to some, all but hobbled Christie as he seeks the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.
Wildstein was Christie’s enforcer and go-to guy at the Port Authority, which runs the New York City-area airports as well as the bridges and tunnels that connect New York and New Jersey. According to emails that were revealed in January 2014, Wildstein shut down two out of three local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge at the direction of Christie’s deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly. Their alleged goal was political payback against the mayor of Fort Lee — where the bridge is anchored in New Jersey — because the mayor would not endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote in an August 2013 email.
With those words disclosed, what had been a local political brush fire engulfed the pugnacious New Jersey governor. He fired Kelly and cast aside Bill Stepien, the man who ran his political organization and was expected to helm Christie’s impending presidential campaign.
ABC NewsPHOTO: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview on March 27, 2014.
Attorneys hired by Christie soon determined that the governor had no role in the scandal. But that did nothing to quiet matters.
In December, Christie himself was interrogated for more than seven hours by federal investigators probing the bridge scandal. He has denied having any role in the lane closings and has repeatedly said he did nothing wrong.
Last year, the governor told ABC’s Diane Sawyer he didn’t even “inspire” his aides and loyalists to shut down lanes to the world’s busiest bridge.
“This is not something that I think I inspired, and to the extent that any of them thought that this was acceptable conduct, then I fell short,” Christie said at the time.
The governor also said that he does not believe the bridge affair was even done on his behalf.
“I don’t believe it was for me,” he said.
Spartanburg Herald Journal/AP PhotoPHOTO: Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey show support for each other at a drive-in restaurant in Spartanburg, S.C., on Nov. 2, 2014.
The New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI have spent 16 months investigating the September 2013 lane closings, which caused unprecedented traffic jams for the better part of a week and crippled Fort Lee.
The scandal thrust Christie and his inner circle into a crisis first marked by a marathon news conference and then two months of dodging questions on the incident. Christie has since returned to public view, but his popularity among voters is at all-time lows and most observers see his chances of winning the GOP nomination as nearly non-existent.
In addition to the federal investigation in New Jersey, Christie and his aides are still facing continued scrutiny from a series of other probes being conducted by the Manhattan District Attorney in New York City, the New Jersey State Legislature and the Port Authority Inspector General’s Office over the land closures. The results of the FBI probe could also be turned over to state prosecutors in the event they want to file their own charges in connection with the lane closing.
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Source: ABC News Politics