NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The defense rested Wednesday in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case, with a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie implying that others who have testified in the trial may have suffered from selective amnesia because of their connections to the two-term Republican governor.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton gave instructions to the jury Wednesday morning. Attorneys are scheduled to give closing arguments Thursday and Friday. The trial is in its sixth week.
The judge told the jury that to win a conviction, prosecutors do not have to prove the two former aides to Christie intended to punish Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie. The government must just prove that the defendants misused Port Authority of New York and New Jersey resources.
“I think she presented well,” said Michael Critchley, an attorney representing defendant Bridget Kelly.
Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff, broke down in tears again during her testimony Wednesday, describing the intimidation and fear emanating from Christie’s office.
She concluded testimony that spanned parts of four days and contained revelations that Christie may have known about the lane realignments near the bridge well before they were put into effect, causing massive gridlock in the town of Fort Lee in September 2013.
Kelly and former bridge authority executive Bill Baroni are charged with creating traffic jams to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie’s re-election.
She testified Tuesday that an email she sent saying “time for some traffic problems” referred to a traffic study and was not indicative of a political retaliation plot.
The recipient of Kelly’s email, former bridge authority official David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and testified against Kelly and Baroni. Kelly said in her choice of words, she was only repeating what Wildstein said.
Co-defendant Baroni defended the traffic study idea once before in front of New Jersey legislators. Many of them, including state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) did not buy it – and soon it will be determined whether the jury buys it.
“I knew the cover-up was a cover-up when I was listening to it,” Weinberg said.
In testimony, Kelly also admitted to destroying documents, saying “I’m not the only person who deleted emails and texts,” WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
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.
The traffic jams are well remembered three years later.
“It was just a nightmare getting to the toll,” said Barry Sprung of Bergen County.
Sprung has commuted over the George Washington Bridge through Fort Lee for more than 30 years. For two days in a row, he sat in traffic for two and a half hours, and no one could explain to him why the lanes were closed.
“I was annoyed, you know – here we are, we’re commuters, and we’re stuck in the middle of this traffic jam for no reason at all, or for some political reason, or for whatever reason,” Sprung said. “But you know, we were all – I was upset.”
Christie did not testify in the case, but he has always maintained that he knew nothing of the lane closures before or during.
Wildstein said even after he resigned from the Port Authority, he was still promised a job with Christie’s presidential campaign.
Closing arguments start on Thursday. If they are convicted, the judge will determine how many years Baroni and Kelly will serve in prison.
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