One of the defendants in the “Bridgegate” trial said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and senior administration officials lied about having no previous knowledge of lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013.
Former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly further testified in federal court Monday that even when she reminded former chief of staff Kevin O’Dowd that she had discussed the traffic study with him and Christie over the course of several conversations, they did not seem to remember.
“It was like an alternate world,” said Kelly, who testified she felt alone among her colleagues back then. “None of it was making sense.”
She said other things were not adding up either. Top administration officials continued asking Kelly about her role in the closures, even after she told them about the traffic study. Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein, who directed the lane closures, resigned from the agency and received a laudatory endorsement from Christie in the press. Then Christie himself announced during a press conference that none of his senior staff knew about the lane closures, despite the fact that Kelly said she discussed them with him and O’Dowd.
“What [senior administration officials] were saying in the media wasn’t what I knew to be the case,” she said.
Prosecutors contend that Kelly and co-defendant Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, conspired to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie, a Republican, for re-election in 2013.
Wildstein, the self-described mastermind behind the traffic jams, pleaded guilty and has been the star witness for the prosecution.
Kelly, who infamously sent the email noting that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” said she thought the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study, and that Wildstein misled her about the political reasons for the traffic jams.
And she said that when administration officials, including Christie, continued to deny any prior knowledge of the traffic stuck, “I panicked.”
“When everyone around me including the governor started denying that they had any knowledge, who am I?”
Kelly also explained potentially incriminating text messages that appeared to show her taking pleasure in four days of traffic in Fort Lee.
She testified that she asked Wildstein “is it wrong that I’m smiling?” because she was happy for him that the traffic study he directed was going well.
In two other text messages, she said “I feel badly for the kids” and followed up by saying “I guess.” Kelly testified that she actually was upset that kids were stuck in Fort Lee traffic on the first day of school. “I’m a mother. I have four kids. That really upset me. That bothered me,” she said.
In direct examination and under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna, Kelly also admitted that office of intergovernmental affairs (IGA) staffers discussed politics and Christie’s re-election efforts while they were working in their taxpayer-funded government jobs.
She said she and other IGA staffers were expected to brief Christie on the endorsement statuses of local politicians when he attended public events in their towns. “People would ask all the time, ‘what’s the endorsement status?'”