Ex-aide testifies Christie OK’d bridge traffic plan, physically bullied her
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NEWARK — Gov. Chris Christie approved of a traffic study on the George Washington Bridge, his former deputy chief of staff testified Friday in her criminal trial, but federal prosecutors say it was actually a cover story for a political payback scheme designed to cause traffic jams.
Bridget Kelly is accused of plotting with two other former Christie allies to close lanes on the bridge, which connects Fort Lee and New York, as revenge against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, who wouldn't endorse Christie's re-election effort in 2013.
Her comments at trial that Christie signed off on the traffic study in August 2013, a month before the closures began, are the latest testimony indicating Christie knew more about the closures than he let on in the months afterward. Christie has denied knowing about any plot and has not been charged.
Kelly, sometimes in tears, also testified Christie once threw a water bottle at her, angry that she suggested he introduce local political leaders at an unrelated event. When her attorney asked her if she was afraid of Christie, she responded "yes."
Christie spokesman Brian Murray on Friday again denied the latest accusations.
“As the governor has said since Jan. 9, 2014, the governor had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and he had no role in authorizing them," Murray said. "Anything said to the contrary is simply untrue.”
Also Friday, one of Christie's top political advisers, Mike DuHaime, testified he told Christie ahead of a news conference two months after the lane closures that Kelly and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, knew about them. Christie later said no one other than self-described plot mastermind David Wildstein knew about them.
Wildstein, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey staffer and high school classmate of Christie's, previously pleaded guilty in the case and is the prosecution's key witness. Wildstein has said the traffic study was just a cover story.
Kelly maintained Friday she believed the lane closings, on one of the world's busiest bridges, to be part of a Port Authority traffic study and said they weren't done for political retribution. She's on trial along with former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni. They have pleaded not guilty and have said the government has twisted federal law to turn their actions into crimes.
Kelly testified Wildstein told her the traffic study would cause "tremendous traffic problems" in Fort Lee but would ultimately help traffic flow. She said Wildstein suggested holding an event at the bridge with banners saying, "Thanks, Governor Christie."
She also testified Christie said the study was fine and she should run it by his then-chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd. She said he then asked how their relationship was with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who prosecutors say was the target of the scheme.
The release of the "traffic problems" email was what brought the scandal into full public view and led to Christie firing Kelly and Stepien.
Stepien's attorney has said his client did not engage in wrongdoing. Stepien is now part of the GOP presidential campaign of Donald Trump, for whom Christie is a top adviser.
At a Dec. 13, 2013, news conference, Christie said no one in his administration other than Wildstein knew about the lane closings.
Wildstein previously testified that Baroni told Christie about the traffic in Fort Lee on the third day of the gridlock during a Sept. 11, 2013, memorial event in New York. Kelly testified Friday that Christie told her that he had spoken about the lane closures with Wildstein at the event.
Christie has said that never happened. Baroni testified that Wildstein told Christie about the bridge traffic and that no mention of Sokolich or political retaliation was made.
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