In bombshell testimony Friday, Bridget Anne Kelly said that she told New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) that access lanes to the George Washington Bridge would be closed for a traffic study a month before the plan actually was carried out in September 2013.
The former deputy chief of staff testified that the governor approved the study, which prosecutors allege actually was cover-up for a revenge plot against a local Democratic mayor.
Christie has long maintained that he knew nothing about the lane closures that brought traffic in the town of Fort Lee, New Jersey to a days-long standstill until he read about them in the press in late September or early October 2013. Yet Kelly and other former Christie allies have contradicted what Christie’s said about what he knew of the lane closures and when throughout the federal trial investigating the so-called Bridgegate scheme.
Telling her version of the saga for the first time from the witness stand Friday, Kelly testified that former Port Authority official David Wildstein informed her on Aug. 12, 2013 that he was moving forward with a traffic study that he said would create major traffic problems in Fort Lee, according to WABC. Kelly testified she then informed Christie about the study, and alleged he said he was alright with it.
“He said, ‘All right.’ He didn’t really react. He said that’s fine. He said, ‘How is the relationship with Mayor Sokolich’ of Fort Lee?” Kelly testified, according to Philly.com. “And I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.”
The next day she sent the email that would cast a shadow over Christie’s administration for years to come: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” she wrote to Wildstein.
During tearful testimony in which she admitted she was afraid of the governor, Kelly explained that her language in that email was simply meant to echo Wildstein’s assertion that the lane closures would cause traffic in the New Jersey town, according to WABC.
“I chose words parroting words he had used to me,” Kelly said, according to Philly.com.
Prosecutors who are pursuing federal corruption and fraud charges against Kelly and Bill Baroni, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority, for their alleged roles in the scheme have charged that Christie’s allies orchestrated the traffic jam to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor because he refused to back the governor’s re-election effort.
Wildstein struck a plea deal for his own admitted role in masterminding what he says was a political revenge plot. In September, he testified that he boasted to Christie about the “tremendous amount of traffic” caused by the closures at a 9/11 memorial service on Sep. 13, 2013, while the lane closures were still underway. He alleged that he, Christie and Baroni joked about For Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s phone calls going unanswered. Photos of the three men at the memorial event show them sharing a laugh.
Kelly testified Thursday that Christie stopped by her desk to talk to her about the traffic study after returning from the 9/11 event, according to WABC.
Christie has denied any involvement in the lane closures and repeatedly asserted that he only learned of the political motivation behind them in January 2014, after Kelly’s “time for traffic problems” email and others were made public. Yet both the prosecution and defense in the ongoing trial agree that the governor knew about the lane closures as they were happening.
A Bergen County judge recently ruled that there was probable cause to move forward with a citizen’s official misconduct complaint alleging Christie was aware of the traffic jam while it was underway and allowed it to proceed. The governor is scheduled to appear in court to respond to the complaint, although his office has not yet confirmed that he will do so. Christie lawyer Craig Carpenito did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on Thursday.
This post has been updated.