Ex-Christie aide: ‘Traf­fic prob­lems’ email wasn’t pay­back

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By David Porter

A fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor grilled a for­mer aide to Gov. Chris Christie on her words and deeds sur­round­ing the 2013 Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge lane-clos­ing scan­dal Tues­day, seek­ing to poke holes in her por­trayal of her­self as un­aware of the al­leged politi­cal re­tal­i­a­tion plot and too fright­ened of her su­pe­ri­ors to come for­ward.

The day­long cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of Brid­get Kelly pit­ted the for­mer deputy chief of staff to the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor against what amounted to an elec­tronic ver­sion of her­self: emails and text mes­sages she sent and re­ceived be­fore and dur­ing the Septem­ber 2013 lane re­align­ment at the bridge con­nect­ing New Jersey and New York, which caused epic grid­lock in the town of Fort Lee.

Kelly and Bill Ba­roni, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive with the Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jersey, the bridge’s op­er­a­tor, are charged with crimes in­clud­ing mis­us­ing Port Au­thor­ity prop­erty to cre­ate traf­fic jams to pun­ish Fort Lee’s mayor, Demo­crat Mark Sokolich, for not en­dors­ing Christie’s re-elec­tion.

Of the two, Kelly gained more no­to­ri­ety when emails sur­faced in 2014 be­cause she sent the now­in­fa­mous “Time for some traf­fic prob­lems in Fort Lee” mes­sage to for­mer Port Au­thor­ity of­fi­cial David Wild­stein. Wild­stein, a for­mer politi­cal blog­ger and high school class­mate of Christie’s, pleaded guilty and tes­ti­fied against Kelly and Ba­roni.

Christie has con­sis­tently de­nied any knowl­edge of the plot or the lane clo­sures while they were go­ing on and has not been charged, though Kelly tes­ti­fied Mon­day she told him a month be­fore they hap­pened that they were to be part of a traf­fic study. She also tes­ti­fied that she talked to him about them twice while they were on­go­ing.

On cross-ex­am­i­na­tion, Kelly re­peated her di­rect tes­ti­mony from Fri­day that she used a poor choice of words in the email to Wild­stein. Kelly tes­ti­fied she be­lieved it was a le­git­i­mate traf­fic study that would even­tu­ally im­prove traf­fic flow over the bridge, con­sid­ered the coun­try’s busiest.

“‘Prob­lem’ doesn’t mean study, does it?” pushed back As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Vikas Khanna.

“It meant that would be the ef­fect” of the traf­fic study, Kelly said, adding, “David had told me the ben­e­fits were go­ing to out­weigh the in­con­ve­nience.”

Khanna said: “If you are cre­at­ing prob­lems in Fort Lee, you are mak­ing things worse in Fort Lee.”

Kelly also de­fended a text ex­change with Wild­stein on the sec­ond of four days of the lane re­align­ments in which she wrote, “Why is it wrong that I am smil­ing?” She said she was re­fer­ring to a con­ver­sa­tion she’d had with Wild­stein when he told her the traf­fic study was go­ing well.

“Nowhere did you say any­thing about a traf­fic study,” Khanna said.

Khanna also punc­tu­ated his ques­tions about the text and emails by elic­it­ing that Kelly deleted them on her own. Kelly has tes­ti­fied that she deleted them months later when it ap­peared oth­ers who had knowl­edge of the clo­sures weren’t be­ing truth­ful.

“I was scared and I didn’t know what was hap­pen­ing,” she said. “When ev­ery­one started for­get­ting what they knew, I started delet­ing, yes.”

Khanna also sought to demon­strate Kelly and Ba­roni col­lab­o­rated to re­tal­i­ate against a dif­fer­ent Demo­cratic mayor be­fore al­legedly us­ing the same tac­tic against Sokolich.

Kelly tes­ti­fied she was told by su­pe­ri­ors — “screamed at,” in her words — on or­ders from Christie, to can­cel sched­uled meet­ings with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fu­lop in the sum­mer of 2013. Fu­lop was seen as a po­ten­tial Christie en­dorser, Kelly tes­ti­fied, but when it be­came clear it wasn’t go­ing to work out, she was told to can­cel the meet­ings and have no more con­tact with him.

Prose­cu­tors con­tend Kelly, Ba­roni and Wild­stein em­ployed the same phrase — “ra­dio si­lence” — in de­scrib­ing how both may­ors would be ig­nored.

Strik­ing a defiant tone, Kelly said Wild­stein’s “ra­dio si­lence” email, sent dur­ing Septem­ber 2013 as Sokolich made in­creas­ing des­per­ate pleas for help, “didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”

“Mayor Fu­lop was ‘iced,’ you are cor­rect, on or­ders from the gov­er­nor,” Kelly told Khanna. “There was no rea­son to ig­nore Mayor Sokolich. To com­pare him to what was go­ing on with Mayor Fu­lop is just wrong.”

KEVIN R. WEXLER — THE RECORD-NORTH­JER­SEY.COM VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Brid­get Anne Kelly and her at­tor­ney Michael Critch­ley Jr. walk to­ward the Martin Luther King Jr. Fed­eral Court in Ne­wark Mon­day.

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