Defense rests in bridge trial of 2 former Christie allies
NEWARK -- The defense rested Wednesday in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case, with a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie implying that others who have testified in the trial may have suffered from selective amnesia because of their connections to the two-term Republican governor.
Bridget Kelly, former Christie deputy chief of staff, concluded testimony that spanned parts of four days and contained revelations that Christie may have known about the lane realignments near the bridge well before they were put into effect, causing massive gridlock in the town of Fort Lee in September 2013.
Christie hasn't been charged and has said he only found out about the closures weeks after they happened and only learned months later that members of his staff were involved.
An indictment unsealed in 2015 charged Kelly and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee to the agency that operates the bridge, with closing the lanes to retaliate against Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie.
U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton gave instructions to the jury Wednesday morning. Attorneys are scheduled to give closing arguments Thursday and Friday. The trial is in its sixth week.
Kelly was questioned repeatedly by prosecutors on emails she sent around the four days of gridlock in Fort Lee in September 2013. She testified that an email she sent saying "time for some traffic problems" was not indicative of a retaliation plot against Sokolich.
She and Baroni have testified that former Port Authority official David Wildstein conceived of the plot and that they believed Wildstein's version that it was a traffic study to gauge rush-hour traffic flow near the bridge.
Wildstein pleaded guilty last year. He testified that Kelly and Baroni were aware of the plot against Sokolich.
The final minutes of Kelly's cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna Wednesday contained some tense moments. Asked by Khanna whether she was saying several earlier trial witnesses provided false testimony about conversations they had with her, Kelly responded, "Their livelihoods depend on Chris Christie," before she was cut off by Khanna.
Kelly testified earlier in the week that she told Christie a month before the lane closures happened that they were to be part of a traffic study. She also testified that she talked to him about them twice while they were ongoing.
She also said she used a poor choice of words in the email to Wildstein. She testified that "time for some traffic problems" was referring to the gridlock that would result from what she believed was a legitimate traffic study that would eventually improve traffic flow over the bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York City and is considered the country's busiest.
Baroni and Kelly face charges including conspiracy, fraud and deprivation of civil rights. The most serious charge, wire fraud conspiracy, carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
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