Bridget Anne Kelly testified Monday that as the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal was underway, she told Chris Christie the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey expressed concern that the lane closures grinding traffic in his town to a halt were an act of “government retribution.”
According to Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Christie, the governor told her not to worry about it. Instead, she said the governor directed her to allow his “enforcer” at the state transit agency that oversees the George Washington Bridge to take care of things.
“It’s a Port Authority project. Let [David] Wildstein handle it,” Kelly said Christie told her, according to a transcription of her Monday testimony from Philly.com.
“That was the end of it,” Kelly told jurors, according to the newspaper.
Kelly is now the second witness in the federal Bridgegate trial to contradict Christie’s insistence that he never knew of the political motivation for the days-long gridlock until internal communications between his allies were released to the public in January 2014.
“As the Governor has said since January 9, 2014, the Governor had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and he had no role in authorizing them,” Christie spokesman Brian Murray said in a statement sent to reporters on Friday. “Anything said to the contrary is simply untrue.”
However, Kelly testified that on Sept. 12, 2013, four days into the lane closures, she relayed to Christie that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich called a staffer in the governor’s office to express dismay at the snarled traffic and suggest “there is a feeling in town that this is government retribution for something,” Philly.com reported. Kelly testified that Christie told her to drop it.
Prosecutors allege that the lane-closure scheme was intended to punish Sokolich, a Democrat, for declining to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign.
This latest revelation follows Kelly’s testimony on Friday that she informed Christie of the planned lane closures almost a month before they were carried out. She said she told the governor that the Port Authority had planned a traffic study on the nation’s busiest bridge that would create massive traffic. According to Kelly, Christie asked about the office’s relationship with Sokolich and approved the study. The next day, Kelly fired off the infamous “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email, igniting the spark of what would become a years-long scandal.
Kelly, who along with Bill Baroni, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority, faces federal corruption and fraud charges for her alleged role in the scandal, used her testimony to flip the script on the media and prosecution’s narrative of her involvement. Instead of a vengeful political operative out to please a tyrannical boss, she framed herself as a pawn who did not know the true motivation behind the lane closures.
In Kelly’s telling, Christie and his senior staff left her to take the fall as the press began to report on the lane closures. She accused the governor of lying at a Dec. 13, 2013 press conference where he told reporters that none of his staff were involved in the lane closures and that the closures were not carried out for political reasons.
“I was like, he knew about Fort Lee—he, meaning the governor,” Kelly testified, according to the Asbury Park Press. “Kevin O’Dowd knew about Fort Lee, Mike Drewniak knew about Fort Lee,” she said, referring to the governor’s then-chief of staff and then-spokesman.
“I was at that point petrified, because now nobody was remembering that they knew everything about this traffic study,” she added, as quoted by the newspaper.
Another former Christie aide previously said the governor “flat out lied” in that same press conference about knowing his staffers weren’t involved in the plot, before walking that statement back on the witness stand.
Wildstein, another former Christie appointee at the Port Authority who struck a plea deal for masterminding the lane closure scheme, also testified that he directly informed Christie about the political motivation behind Bridgegate as the lane closures were underway.
Wildstein told jurors that he spoke with Christie about the traffic in Fort Lee at a 9/11 memorial event on Sept. 13, 2013. He said he bragged about the “tremendous amount of traffic” that the lane closures had caused and joked that Sokolich was getting no response to his complaints.