NEWARK, N.J. – Questions over what Republican Gov. Chris Christie knew about the George Washington Bridge lane closings were raised again Monday as a former ally testified she told him a Democratic mayor had expressed concern the resulting traffic jams in his city were political retribution.
Ex-aide Bridget Anne Kelly testified in her criminal trial that she told Christie about Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich’s concern while the lanes were closed in September 2013. She said Christie lied three months later when he said at a news conference no one on his senior staff knew.
Kelly said that when she shared Sokolich’s concern with Christie, he told her it was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey project and to “let Wildstein handle it,” referring to David Wildstein. Wildstein, an executive at the Port Authority, pleaded guilty to his role in a scheme to punish Sokolich for not endorsing the governor’s re-election effort.
“I said, `He’s talking about government retribution,“’ Kelly testified. “(Christie) said, `It’s a Port Authority project. Let Wildstein handle it.“’
Christie has consistently denied any knowledge of the plot or the lane closures while they were going on and has not been charged.
Christie spokesman Brian Murray has said the governor had “no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments” and “no role in authorizing them.” Murray added that anything said to the contrary “is simply untrue.”
Kelly maintains she believed the lane closures were part of a traffic study, but she testified Monday she became confused on their final day after Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye ordered the lanes reopened even though Wildstein said the study was a success.
Kelly is accused of plotting with Wildstein and another former Christie ally, Bill Baroni, to close lanes on the bridge, which connects Fort Lee and New York, as revenge against Sokolich. Kelly and Baroni have pleaded not guilty and have said the government has twisted federal law to turn their actions into crimes.
Kelly on Friday testified that Christie approved of the idea for a traffic study of the bridge, and she testified she spoke with the governor a third time about the lane closures while they were going on.
One of Christie’s top political advisers, Mike DuHaime, testified Friday that he told Christie ahead of a December 2013 news conference that Kelly and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, knew about the lane closures. Christie then told reporters that no one in his administration was involved in the closures.
Kelly said that the news conference was “like an alternate world.”
“I just knew that it wasn’t going to be a good thing for me,” she said.
Kelly on Monday also testified that Christie said that he had told Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to have Foye back off in the days after Foye had testified to New Jersey lawmakers that the lane closures were ordered by Wildstein and that he had no knowledge about any traffic study.
A spokesman for Cuomo noted “longtime tensions between New York and New Jersey staff at the Port Authority before, during and after Bridgegate that were discussed at all levels.” But spokesman Richard Azzopardi said there were no conversations between the governors to have Foye “stand down or to have the issue whitewashed.”
Kelly was asked about a text message conversation with Wildstein in which she asked whether it was wrong that she was “smiling” about a note from Sokolich that the traffic was leading to schoolchildren being late.
Kelly said she was happy for Wildstein that his traffic study was going well and should have used different words.
She will return to the witness stand Tuesday to face cross-examination from federal prosecutors.