Aide: Christie knew mayor thought traf­fic might be pay­back

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS -

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.

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.

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.

The scan­dal de­vel­oped just af­ter Christie won re­elec­tion hand­ily and as his na­tional po­lit­i­cal pro­file was ris­ing. It ul­ti­mately weighed down his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, which ended with a fiz­zle in the pri­mary sea­son af­ter a poor show­ing in New Hamp­shire.

Kelly will re­turn to the stand Tues­day to face cros­sex­am­i­na­tion from fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors.

KEVIN R. WEXLER — THE RECORD-NORTH­JER­SEY.COM VIA AP

Bridget Anne Kelly and her at­tor­ney Michael Critch­ley Jr. walk to­wards the Martin Luther King Jr. Fed­eral Court in Ne­wark Mon­day. Kelly tes­ti­fied Mon­day that she told the gov­er­nor that the Demo­cratic mayor pros­e­cu­tors say was tar­geted by the Ge­orge Washington Bridge lane clo­sures had com­plained about ret­ri­bu­tion while they were go­ing on.

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