A former top aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said mistreating a mayor who displeased her boss was part of the “company mentality” that she adopted in an office where she lived in fear of the governor’s angry rebukes.
Bridget Anne Kelly, who is on trial in the George Washington Bridge lane-closings scandal, was questioned Tuesday by a prosecutor who sought to undermine her claims that she played no role in punishing Democrats who crossed Christie.
Kelly testified that she carried out Christie’s orders in July 2013 to cancel a series of meetings between Cabinet officials and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democrat who failed to endorse the governor’s re-election. She had testified earlier that Christie shouted an obscenity at her in issuing the directive.
“I bought into that mentality,” Kelly said in federal court in Newark. “And I was petrified. I bought into the company line.”
Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff, is accused of conspiring in September 2013 to create traffic jams near the bridge to punish the Democratic mayor of nearby Fort Lee, Mark Sokolich, for failing to endorse Christie’s re-election. She told jurors she had no intent to punish Sokolich and believed the lane closings were part of a traffic study by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which owns the bridge.
In a series of testy exchanges with Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna, Kelly tried to show that the rancor expressed in Christie’s office toward Fulop didn’t extend to Sokolich. The Christie administration’s displeasure with Fulop was clear, but it appeared to have no such problems with Sokolich, she said.
“Mayor Fulop was iced, you are correct, as per the governor,” Kelly said. “Mayor Sokolich, we had a good relationship with. He had no reason to be iced or boxed out. Mayor Fulop was being deliberately ignored, as per the governor.”
Kelly is on trial with Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority. Both testified that they were duped by David Wildstein, a former top official at the Port Authority who pleaded guilty and testified as a prosecution witness. Like Kelly, Baroni said he believed Wildstein when he said the lane closings were part of a traffic study.
Kelly wrote the infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email on Aug. 13, 2013, prompting Wildstein to respond: “Got it.” Public disclosure of that email in January 2014 elevated the scandal to a national story that plagued Christie throughout his failed run for the Republican nomination for president.
Kelly has testified she had told Christie a day earlier about Wildstein’s plan to conduct a study to realign the local access lanes, which she told the governor would create “tremendous traffic problems” in Fort Lee. She said Christie never told her it was a bad idea, and he told her to notify his chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd. She said he also asked about the administration’s relationship with Sokolich.
Khanna asked if she had talked to O’Dowd before sending Wildstein her email. She said she had not. “You sent this email to Mr. Wildstein without doing the one thing he had asked you to do?,” Khanna said.
“Yes, but the governor said he had no problem with it,” Kelly said.
Kelly said Wildstein had told her that traffic problems were a residual effect of the study he intended.
“So I parroted his words to him, I parroted them to the governor, and I parroted them to Kevin O’Dowd the next morning,” Kelly said.
She insisted that the email was a “totally poor choice of words but David and I had talked about it,” she said.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · David Voreacos