What to Look For as Bridge Scandal Trial Opens

After three long years, it’s time for some traffic problems in … Newark.

That is where reporters are lining up at federal court on Monday morning, waiting for opening arguments in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial — the legal proceedings that stem from what must be one of the world’s most unlikely political scandals. (A refresher: Allies of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, are accused of shutting down access lanes to the bridge for days in September 2013 to punish a Democratic mayor who had declined to endorse the governor.)

Even in a state accustomed to political corruption trials, this one is expected to be closely watched.

What is the prosecution’s strategy?

Starting at 9:30 a.m., prosecutors will go first. The defense lawyers, known as two of New Jersey’s most aggressive, are up next.

Look for prosecutors to lay out how the plot unfolded, and then how the defendants allegedly covered it up. Many details will be provided by the government’s star witness, David Wildstein. He is a former Port Authority employee who has already pleaded guilty to shutting down the lanes and is now cooperating with the government.

(Here is the prosecution’s version of events, according to the indictment from last year.)

Who knew about the lane-closing plan?

The big mystery of the trial will be how lawyers for the two defendants explain their roles — and Mr. Christie’s. (As in most political scandals: Who knew what, when?) Did the governor know about the plot before the lanes were closed? What about during the four days they were closed?

As for one of the defendants, Bridget Anne Kelly, who was a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, she has said in her only public statement that it was “preposterous” to allege that she would have acted without approval from higher up.

And how does Ms. Kelly explain her now-famous email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”? (Perhaps even more damning is the text she sent after Mr. Wildstein told her school buses were stuck in traffic: “Is it wrong that I am smiling?”)

Lawyers for the other defendant, Bill Baroni, are likely to talk about how Christie administration officials chose and coached him to tell a legislative hearing — in what the government calls part of the cover-up — that the lane closings were simply a “traffic study.” Expect them to try to distance their client, a clean-cut lawyer and former state senator, from Mr. Wildstein, his onetime friend. Harder for them: How do they explain why Mr. Baroni ignored texts, phone calls and emails from the mayor who declined to endorse Mr. Christie, Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, pleading with him to reopen the lanes?

What about Christie?

One wild card from the prosecution: Does the government make any nod to what Mr. Christie knew? In a letter released shortly after the scandal broke in January 2014, Mr. Wildstein’s lawyer said “evidence exists” that Mr. Christie knew about the lane closings as they were going on. Mr. Wildstein had told at least one other Christie aide that he discussed the shutdowns with Mr. Christie at a Sept. 11 memorial service. Given that, it remains a mystery to many how Mr. Wildstein could be cooperating, yet Mr. Christie is not in more legal trouble.

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