‘They Were All Lying,’ Former Aide|Says of Christie and Senior Staffers

     NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Returning to the witness stand Monday after detailing a water-bottle attack and other abuses, the woman indicted over New Jersey’s politically orchestrated 2013 traffic jam said Gov. Chris Christie lied to distance himself from the scandal.
     “They were all lying,” Bridget Anne Kelly said Monday.
     Kelly had been a deputy chief of staff under Christie when two of the three lanes reserved for Fort Lee access to the George Washington Bridge were shut down for four days in September 2013.
     Just before the lane closures caused hours of gridlock traffic for commuters, emergency vehicles and school buses, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had declined to endorse Christie’s 2013 re-election.
     Continued focus on the lane closures soon prompted the resignations of two top Christie appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — the bi-state agency that runs the busy bridge connecting the Garden State and New York City.
     Christie insisted at a Dec. 13 press conference, however, that he was not aware of any involvement by senior staffers in his office with the political-retribution scheme.
     Kelly, whose fraud trial enters its sixth week today, told the court Monday about the surreal lead-up to Christie’s press conference.
     She said Christie’s chief-of-staff at the time, Kevin O’Dowd, called her on Dec. 12, asking what she knew about political retribution.
     Christie made a similar demand an hour before his Dec. 13 press conference, in a meeting with senior staff.
     “I was like, he knew about Fort Lee,” Kelly said of Christie. “In that room there were several people who knew about Fort Lee.”
     “I was at that moment petrified … nobody was remembering,” Kelly continued, under direct examination by her attorney, Michael Critchley.
     “They were all lying,” she added. As the court has heard from countless sources, the lane closures that began on Sept. 9 sent Sokolich pleading to the Christie administration and the Port Authority for help.
     The Democratic mayor never got a reply, but Kelly testified Monday that she relayed the mayor’s cries to an unconcerned Christie.
     “It’s a Port Authority problem,” Christie said, according to Kelly’s testimony. “Let Wildstein handle it.”
     Kelly said today that this is what she relayed to O’Dowd when he called her on Dec. 12.     
     After the press conference, Kelly went to O’Dowd again.
     She said she had deleted most of her emails by this point but still had one she forwarded to Wildstein, relaying complaints Sokolich had made about perceived political retribution.
     O’Dowd at some point passed along Kelly’s printout of this email to the governor, Kelly said.
     She noted that the chief of staff never replied when she texted him later that day about what she should do next.
     In her first day of testimony, 44-year-old Kelly had told the court she believed the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. Kelly said Monday that she believed this because she trusted David Wildstein.
     Several witnesses have spoken to the fact that Wildstein acted as Christie’s enforcer at the Port Authority. Both Kelly and her co-defendant, Bill Baroni Jr., want the court to see them as the pawns of Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to his role in the plot last year.
     To prove otherwise, prosecutors have seized on a trove of incriminating emails and text messages that Baroni and Kelly traded with Wildstein about the lane closures.
     In one exchange, discussing schoolchildren stuck in the bridge traffic, Kelly had asked Wildstein: “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?”
     “These are the children of Buono voters,” Wildstein wrote back, referring to Democrat Barbara Buono, whom Sokolich was supporting over Christie in the 2013 gubernatorial race.
     Kelly also wrote: “I feel badly about the kids. I guess.”
     The defendant testified Monday that she was sincerely concerned for the children in traffic, but thought their situation was an “unfortunate byproduct.”
     “I’m a mother. I have four kids,” Kelly said. “That really upset me.”
     As for why she texted about smiling, Kelly said she was crediting Wildstein’s claim that the traffic study was decreasing main-line traffic in the other tolls of the bridge.
     “I wasn’t sitting there smiling or gloating,” Kelly said today. “I was happy for David.”
     Kelly said Wildstein appeared “pleased with himself” about the success of the lane closures as soon as they began on Sept. 9.
     Though Wildstein invoked Christie’s Democratic opponent to allay Kelly’s concerns about the children in traffic, Kelly said she didn’t “pay much mind” to his “children of Buono voters” reply.
     Kelly also sent a callous-sounding message on Sept. 13, the day Fort Lee’s lanes reopened.
     Evan Ridley, the regional director in Christie’s office, whose territory included Fort Lee, had just relayed Sokolich’s concern that Christie’s office was making him look like a “fucking idiot.”
     “Good,” Kelly wrote in reply.
     Explaining this Monday, Kelly said she had meant “good” with regard to Ridley offering to find out more, not about how Sokolich looked.
     Ridley, as the defendant told it, had been a concern because of prior indiscretions.
     Kelly said the regional director had missed meetings with mayors to go out drinking in the past, and that she didn’t trust him to call Sokolich back.
     The defendant began her testimony this morning by saying that her job at Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs required her to field 300 to 400 emails a day, often pulling 90-hour weeks.
     While the minute details of the lane closures face close scrutiny today, Kelly cast the traffic scandal as a pretty small part of her world back in September 2013.
     She told the court previously that the first day she mentioned Fort Lee’s congestion issues to Christie was on Sept. 11, 2013 — the governor had been returning to his office after touring a 9/11 memorial.
     When she shared Sokolich’s retribution theory the next day, the governor’s office had been focused on a fire that devastated Seaside Heights.
     It took an executive order on Sept. 13 from Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye to reopen the lanes. Unlike Baroni and Wildstein, Foye had been appointed to the agency by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
     Kelly said she began to regret trusting Wildstein as the media continued making inquiries, and details emerged about internal problems at the Port Authority.
     As Foye bucked the lane closures, there were rumblings that he faced retaliation by David Samson, the Christie-appointed chairman of the Port Authority Board of Commissioners.
     “This was totally contrary to anything he was telling me,” Kelly said of Wildstein.
     “If I knew any of what I know now … I would have asked more questions of Wildstein,” she added.
     Contradicting the testimony last week of former Christie spokesman Mike Drewniak, Kelly claimed to have told the press secretary on Sept. 17 that Christie was aware of the traffic study.
     The writing on the wall started to become clear, Kelly said, when she heard Christie, in a Dec. 2 press conference, laughing off the suggestion that he engineered the lane closures.
     In the same speech where Republican governor had dead-panned, “I worked the cones,” Christie also claimed to have no prior knowledge that there were separate Fort Lee lanes.
     “The fact is, I didn’t know Fort Lee got three dedicated lanes until all this stuff happened, and I think we should review that entire policy because I don’t know why Fort Lee needs three dedicated lanes to tell you the truth,” Christie said at the time. “And I didn’t even know it until this whole, you know, happening went about.”
     He added later: “The fact that one town has three lanes dedicated to it, that kind of gets me sauced.”
     Video clips from that press conference, a well as the one on Dec. 13, were shown to the jury today as Kelly looked on.
     Kelly remembered being surprised by the governor’s remarks.
     “I was a little concerned because we had talked about it in three separate occasions,” she said today.
     Kelly also voiced surprise at Christie’s denial, in the Dec. 2 press conference, that he had had a conversation with Cuomo about the lane-closure issue.
     Shortly before the Dec. 2 press conference, Kelly said, she had been one of several staffers whom Christie told about having called Cuomo to make Foye “back the fuck off” his investigation into Wildstein and the Fort Lee lane shutdown.
     Foye later would publicly blame Wildstein for the lane shutdown.
     Wildstein’s resignation on Dec. 6 added to Kelly’s anxieties. Compounding the governor’s allegedly feigned ignorance, Foye was publicly blaming Wildstein for the lane closures.
     “There were a list of things that weren’t making sense,” Kelly said, “and I was getting scared.”
     Kelly said she was reluctant to contradict the governor or his allies, however, because doing so “could ruin your life.”
     Christie “looks to not help you,” if you don’t help him, Kelly said, becoming emotional on the stand.
     In her testimony Friday, Kelly painted the governor as a violent force to work for.
     He once chucked a bottle of water and hit Kelly in the arm with it, she said, because he didn’t like one of her ideas for a press conference.
     “What do you think I am, a fucking game show host?” he roared, Kelly said.
     Kelly reminded the jury that she wasn’t the only one who experienced the governor’s wrath.
     Earlier this month, a witness testified about how Christie’s office had frozen out John Curley, a Monmouth County freeholder, for his distressed words in fall 2012 after Hurricane Sandy had wreaked devastation on the New Jersey shore.
     As explained in an interview about the testimony, Curley had said he “was frustrated to see people out of their homes.”
     “People were coming up to me, saying, ‘My kids are hungry. Our home has just been totally destroyed,'” the freeholder recalled. “I walked to [the governor’s] cabinet and said, ‘Where is the fat fuck, running for president?'”
     Kelly finished her direct testimony today by recalling the day she was fired — Jan. 9, 2014 — after many of her emails regarding the lane shutdown were made public.
     “I was devastated,” a tearful Kelly told the court, recalling how she had been bombarded by phone calls from the press and letters from angry New Jersey residents when her email address had been made public.
     After Christie’s office told her she should not come to work, Kelly said she had to pull over several times during the hour-long drive home to compose herself.
     Once there, however, Kelly testified she found the media camped out in front of her house.
     “I felt like I was losing my mind,” she said.
     Critchley finished his questioning by asking Kelly if she was innocent of all charges. “I am,” Kelly said clearly.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna began questioning Kelly this afternoon. The cross-examination is expected to take up much of Tuesday proceedings.

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