Follow Stink of Bridge Plot to Head, Jury Hears

     NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Faced with a mountain of electronic evidence against his client, counsel for the woman accused of shutting down New Jersey traffic lanes for political vengeance strived to show Monday that a cabal of political players needed a scapegoat.
     Bridget Anne Kelly is charged with fraud and misuse of government resources in connection to lane closures at the George Washington Bridge that caused massive traffic for four days in September 2013.
     Shouting the word “cowards” several times, defense attorney Michael Critchley asked what Kelly could have done when she realized the scope of the scheme.
     Should she have run around Trenton, Critchley asked, “like modern-day Paul Revere shouting, ‘the governor is lying! The governor is lying!'”
     Kelly was a senior staffer in the Republican governor’s office when the George Washington Bridge experienced a four-day shutdown of access lanes in September 2013.
     The lane closures caused hours of traffic in nearby Fort Lee, whose Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, had just declined to endorse Christie’s re-election.
     In addition to Kelly, prosecutors indicted two men Christie had appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the public agency that runs the bridge.
     Bill Baroni and David Wildstein had both blamed the closed lanes on a traffic study, but the Port Authority later cast this explanation as a cover-up.
     Defense attorney Critchley told the court this morning that the cover-up has “fingerprints from New York and New Jersey.”
     Wrapping up summations after a full day of closing arguments on Friday, Critchley said several of the witnesses and the governor himself belonged to a “coterie of cowards.”
     Fallout from the federal trial in Newark is expected to ripple across the Eastern Seaboard. Despite a court-ordered seal on the government’s list of unindicted co-conspirators, several witnesses to take the stand here implicated various political officials or advisers in the plot.
     Kelly showed little emotion other than a downturned mouth during her attorney’s closing, in which Critchley called it “absurd” to blame her for the cover-up. Critchley also questioned why prosecutors never called the governor to testify.
     “Get Chris Christie up here to say you’re a liar,” the defense attorney said. “Where’s Chris Christie? Where’s Kevin O’Dowd?”
     As the governor’s chief of staff in 2013, O’Dowd supervised Kelly at Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
     Spelling out inconsistencies from the various witnesses, Critchley at one point today presented the court with a chart titled “Who’s Lying?”
     The attorney also displayed a log of phone calls on the day before and of an important Christie press conference. Announcing Baroni’s resignation on Dec. 13, 2013, Christie told reporters that none of his senior staffers were in the retribution scheme, to his knowledge.
     “What do you think they’re talking about,” Critchley asked of the phone log, which shows calls between Wildstein and other Christie staffers, including Mike DuHaime and Bill Stepien. In 2013, DuHaime and Stepien were the governor’s chief political strategist and campaign manager, respectively.
     Having the jury distrust Wildstein is of critical importance to the defense.
     Calling him “the Bernie Madoff of new Jersey politics,” Critchley noted that Wildstein faces up to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to his role in the conspiracy. As the government’s star witness, however, Wildstein could get probation.
     The jury heard extended, uncontested testimony during the trial about Wildstein’s reputation as Christie’s cutthroat enforcer, and Critchley hammered these points home by displaying photos of the governor and Wildstein to the court.
     In one, the men are gazing at each other with looks that even Wildstein described as “adoring,” during testimony last month.
     The Wildstein who took the stand is nearly unrecognizable from the man in the photo. Critchley told the jury that Wildstein could lose weight, grow a beard and do other things to change his appearance, but he can’t change his character.
     Countering this in a brief rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna told jurors not to let Kelly portray herself as “a victim of the governor’s office instead of an active participant.”
     “She knew exactly how to be a part of this office,” he added.
     Khanna told jurors that the focus on Wildstein was an attempt to “distract you from the core if this case.”
     Critchley urged the jury not to let Wildstein get away, saying the governor and his cronies threw Kelly under the bus.
     Some of the political bigwigs Critchley named were New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and David Samson.
     Appointed by Christie as chairman of the Port Authority Board of Commissioners, Samson pleaded guilty this past July to a felony bribery count.
     Critchley talked about Christie’s efforts to hush up Bridgegate from the beginning.
     “He wants no blips,” the attorney said. “He wants no stories.”
     In addition to Christie, the defense attorney questioned why prosecutors never called as a witness Michelle Brown.
     Kelly had testified that Brown was there, on Day 3 of the lane closures, when Christie told her that “the Port Authority is handling it.”
     One witness whom the government did call was former Christie staffer Christina Renna.
     Critchley argued that Renna had incentive to lie on the stand because she hated Kelly and because sliming Christie could jeopardize her lobbying career.
     Other former Christie staffers, including DuHaime and Stepien, meanwhile now advise Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
     Christie chairs Trump’s transition committee, but the New York Post reported Sunday that Trump had initially chosen him over Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. Despite pressure to pick someone better suited at unifying deep rifts in the Republican base, according to the article, Trump wanted to reward Christie for his loyalty. The article says Trump later capitulated to his advisers, however, and rescinded the Christie offer.
     Critchley spent only 20 seconds on a incriminating email that prosecutors displayed repeatedly in their five-hour closing.
     Before the lanes closed on Sept. 9, 2013, Kelly had emailed Wildstein: “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
     Critchley reminded the jury of his client’s innocent explanation for the email, saying she was just shorthand for the traffic study, which she believed was legitimate.
     Emails and text messages have dogged Kelly throughout the proceedings. Critchley told the jury today that the words are taken out of context.
     U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton dismissed the jury for the day before 4 p.m.

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