Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Christie Aide Was All Smiles at News of Traffic Mess, Witness Says

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Gov. Chris Christie's former staffer offered only a smile when told about the havoc created by New Jersey lane closures she is accused of engineering for political retribution, a witness testified Thursday.

Along with accused co-conspirator Bill Baroni, Bridget Ann Kelly has been on trial for the past three weeks over a traffic jam in 2013 that mired commuters, school buses and emergency vehicles in four days of gridlock.

The traffic stemmed from the sudden closure two lanes of traffic connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, to New York City via the George Washington Bridge.

Prosecutors say Baroni and Kelly conspired on a "traffic-study" story to cover up the real motivation for the lane closures: getting back at Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich because the Democrat had withdrawn his support of Republican Christie for re-election.

On Thursday, the government called to the stand Jeanne Ashmore, the former head of constituent services in Christie's office.

Ashmore said she began getting angry phone calls as soon as Fort Lee's lanes were shut down on Sept. 9, 2013.

When the lanes stayed closed on Sept. 10, and the calls kept coming, Ashmore went to Kelly, the governor's deputy chief of staff.

Ashmore testified that Kelly smiled her way through the report then said "OK."

Fort Lee's lanes finally reopened on Sept. 13, via executive order from the head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a public agency that runs the bridge,

That official, Pat Foye, testified earlier in the trial that the lanes were still at risk once they reopened. He said Baroni, a top Christie appointee to the agency, came at him several times to shut them down again

Closing the lanes again was "important to Trenton," Baroni said, according to Foye's testimony.

Though Baroni and Kelly maintain that the lane closures were the result of a legitimate traffic study, the government says the traffic study was nothing more than a cover-up.

David Wildstein, another Christie appointee to the Port Authority, supported the government's case during eight days on the stand.

Wildstein has been cooperating with the government after pleading guilty last year to fraud and conspiracy in connection to the lane closures.

Ashmore testified Thursday that she spoke to Wildstein in the midst of the lane closures as well.

He told her that the lanes were Port Authority business and didn't concern the governor's office.

Earlier Thursday, engineers told the court about reaching out to Wildstein on Sept. 6, 2013.

They said they warned Wildstein that day to cancel his plans for lane closures because of the enormous congestion that would ensue.

Port Authority also conducted a traffic analysis from the week of Sept. 9, the engineers testified Thursday. They said data was never collected on Fort Lee, and that the report was never requested.

Next to the stand Thursday is Christina Renna, a former Christie staffer who became infamous for a text message she sent during Christie's Dec. 13, 2013, press conference. Renna had texted that the governor "flat-out lied" about his senior staff not being involved in the lane closures.

Renna has testified so far that she was initially friends with Kelly, her boss, but that their relationship soured.

In Wednesday's testimony, the court heard from another former official that Christie's office kept a list of local governors and freeholders who slighted the governor in some way.

Anyone on this "hands-off list" found themselves frozen out of communications with Christie's office.

One egregious example mentioned Wednesday involved a freeholder who called the obese Christie a "fat fuck" — complaining that Christie had been giving speeches after Hurricane Sandy when the storm-ravaged state needed him in the trenches.

This testimony came from Chris Stark, a former regional director with Christie's now-defunct Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Stark said they put the "annoying" mayor of Egg Harbor on the hands-off list because he was constantly complaining. This mayor allegedly talked to the press about his taxes being too high and said he was moving out of the state.

The mayor of Trenton meanwhile found himself on the hands-off list because he was being investigated for extortion, Stark said.

Joseph Mancini, the mayor of Long Beach, apparently requested listing. Stark said Mancini had called Christie into question, and requested that the governor's office not call him anymore because he no longer wanted to hear from Christie.

Stark also told the court that Kelly, the accused Bridgegate co-conspirator, had blocked his husband from getting a position at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Are you still a little angry about that," asked Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley.

Stark said he was not.

Another focus of Stark's testimony concerned a spreadsheet Christie's office maintained of Democratic mayors who might endorse the governor.

The spreadsheet apparently rated the mayors 1-10 on endorsement likelihood.

Sokolich, the mayor targeted by the lane closures, was rated high initially.

Stark sent a memo in the summer of 2013 that called it unlikely for Christie to expect an endorsement from Sokolich. In that memo, Stark also made note of Sokolich's important real estate project near the George Washington Bridge.

Over the course of the past three weeks — and primarily during Wildstein's questioning — testimony has implicated various current and former officials with contemporaneous knowledge of the plot or its cover-up.

Allegations of Gov. Christie were expected but a new theory about New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo emerged Tuesday.

Part II of Thursday testimony continues here

Follow @NickRummell
Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.