During a full day of cross-examination in federal court in Newark on Tuesday, prosecutors suggested that one of the defendants in the so-called Bridgegate trial wielded more influence in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration than she let on.
Bridget Anne Kelly, who has pleaded not guilty to her role in retaliatory traffic jams of 2013, testified that she largely handled logistics for Christie and was not a close adviser to the Republican governor.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna noted that Kelly held a senior position as deputy chief of staff, that she had recently been promoted and given a raise before 2013, and even that her state house office was located near the offices of other senior administration officials, like the chief of staff and the chief counsel.
“All these people surrounding you had important positions in the governor’s office, right?” Khanna said
The government alleges that Kelly and two top executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey created traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie, a Republican, for re-election.
Kelly testified that she thought the lane closures were part of a legitimate traffic study conducted by David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official who has pleaded guilty in the scheme.
But Khanna suggested that Kelly was the one in Christie’s office who gave orders to Wildstein, specifically that she gave him the go-ahead to close lanes at the George Washington Bridge to punish Sokolich when she emailed Wildstein, “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Kelly acknowledged that she would sometimes relay orders from Christie or Kevin O’Dowd, Christie’s former chief of staff and Kelly’s former boss, but she said she never made such high-level decisions herself.
Khanna pushed back on the notion that that now-infamous email from Kelly was meant as innocent approval of a traffic study, as Kelly previously testified, pointing out that it had a very specific message. “It doesn’t say, ‘time to make traffic go more efficiently across the [George Washington Bridge],'” Khanna said.
Kelly testified that Wildstein often operated autonomously and did not take orders from her, but she said she knew that Wildstein used Port Authority resources to further Christie’s political agenda.
“A lot of what David did, David did on his own,” she said, “and had the latitude to do so.”
Khanna continued trying to poke holes in Kelly’s testimony, noting that at least three other witnesses had contradicted what she said.
He referenced several emails among top staffers about their distaste for Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, another Democrat who did not endorse Christie for re-election.
Khanna showed one email in which Kelly and other senior staff discussed treating Fulop with “radio silence.” But Kelly said she did not think “radio silence” meant the same thing when Wildstein used it to describe his treatment of Sokolich during the lane closures, even as the mayor pleaded for help amid overwhelming traffic delays.
Kelly said the two situations were completely different. “We never had a bad relationship with Mayor Sokolich. Any effort to compare him to what was going on with Mayor Fulop was just wrong.”