NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A former aide to Gov. Chris Christie reiterated Tuesday that a now-infamous email she sent saying “time for some traffic problems” near the George Washington Bridge in 2013 referred to a traffic study, not a political retaliation plot.
Former deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly and former Port Authority official Bill Baroni are charged with closing bridge access lanes and causing gridlock to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election.
Wildstein has pleaded guilty and testified against Kelly and Baroni, Christie’s top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Kelly and Baroni face nine criminal counts each, including wire fraud and civil rights offenses. They contend any political retaliation plot was Wildstein’s creation.
But Kelly testified Monday that she told Christie about the planned traffic study a month before it happened and told him twice about the lane closures while they were ongoing. In one of those conversations, she testified that she told Christie that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was concerned the lanes were closed for political retribution.
Kelly testified Tuesday that the email referred to the traffic that would ensue once the lanes were closed. She said she believed it was a legitimate traffic study that would eventually improve traffic flow over the bridge connecting New Jersey and New York.
The words “were not as they are read,” Kelly said to Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna.
“’Problem’ means something that’s not OK, right?” Khanna asked.
“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.”
As WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported, Kelly also said when she texted Wildstein, “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” she did not mean she was smiling about children being delayed for school.
“I’m a mother,” Kelly said.
Khanna continued, “You didn’t say, ‘David, I’m happy for you?’”
“I didn’t,” Kelly said.
Earlier Tuesday, Khanna sought to demonstrate Kelly and Baroni collaborated to retaliate against a different Democratic mayor in the months before they’re accused of using the same tactic against Sokolich, whose town is adjacent to the bridge, which connects it to New York.
Kelly testified she was told by superiors, 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 in her responses, Kelly said the two situations were different. She said Wildstein’s “radio silence” email, sent during the four days of lane closures in 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.”
Earlier testimony by Kelly raised questions about when Christie knew about the lane closures. On Monday, she testified she told Christie in mid-September, while the traffic jams were in progress, that Sokolich had expressed concerns about being targeted for political retribution. She said Christie lied three months later when he told reporters no one on his senior staff knew of the lane closures.
Christie has consistently denied any knowledge of the plot or the lane closures while they were going on and has not been charged.
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