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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Bridgegate Witnesses Are Still Shielding Christie, Defendant Says

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — As the federal trial on a politically engineered New Jersey traffic jam transitions into closing arguments, one of the defendants offered jurors a simple reason Wednesday to credit her testimony over that of other witnesses.

"Their livelihoods rely on Chris Christie," said Bridget Anne Kelly, the New Jersey governor's former deputy chief of staff.

Kelly's explanation brought a fitting end to witness testimony in the six-week trial over the mysterious closure of lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge in September 2013.

Christie himself has never been charged, but the New Jersey governor's name has been inescapable since opening arguments.

Federal prosecutors say Kelly orchestrated the four-day lane closures with two Christie appointees to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a public agency that runs the busy bridge connecting the Garden State and New York City.

The government already nabbed a guilty plea from one of Kelly's accused co-conspirators, David Wildstein. The other, Bill Baroni Jr., is also on trial.

Wildstein has admitted that the lane closures were intended to exact political retribution. Closure of the lanes led to massive traffic in nearby Fort Lee, a heavily Democratic city whose mayor, Mark Sokolich, had just refused to endorse Christie's 2013 re-election.

Wildstein says the "traffic study" explanation given for the lane closures was just a cover-up, but Baroni and Kelly say they never doubted the traffic study wasn't legitimate, that Wildstein had hoodwinked them too.

Both Baroni and Kelly took the stand this month to fight the charges against them: fraud and misuse of government resources.

Concluding cross-examination of Kelly today, the prosecution emphasized that the mother of four's testimony contradicts that of several other witnesses.

Kelly called out just one witness, former Christie spokesman Mike Drewniak, as having given false testimony.

Drewniak told the court last week about having talked to Kelly on Sept. 17, 2013 — soon after the lanes had reopened — because his office was fielding a request from the Wall Street Journal.

Drewniak denied having asked Kelly if Christie was made aware of the lane closures.

Contradicting this Monday, Kelly testified that this was the day she told Drewniak about Christie's knowledge of the traffic study.

The Christie campaign's penchant for making the governor's political opponents pay has been a recurring theme of the trial.

Several witnesses have spoken about lists maintained by Christie's office of local governors and freeholders — recording whether they could be counted on to endorse the governor, or whether they had slighted Christie in some way.

Perhaps more damning than the prosecution's witnesses, however, has been the evidence of emails and text messages that Kelly and Baroni sent — usually to Wildstein — back in 2013.

Since Kelly infamously deleted her emails, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna asked the defendant whether there would even be a trial today if Wildstein had done the same.

"I guess not," Kelly replied.

Closing arguments begin Thursday and will likely conclude Friday.

The jury consists of five men and seven women. U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton has been presiding over the trial.

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