NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The fate of two former allies of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie charged with using traffic jams for political revenge is in the hands of a jury.
Attorneys wrapped up closing arguments Monday in the case against former Christie staffer Bridget Kelly and former bridge authority appointee Bill Baroni.
As CBS2’s Meg Baker reported, the defendants’ fate is now in the hands of 12 jurors and three alternates after six weeks and 35 witnesses.
Kelly defense attorney Michael Critchley said he was “relieved on one level, but still stressed.”
In an emotional closing argument that lasted more than two hours this morning, Critchley cast client Kelly as a single mother faced with an administration more concerned with keeping Christie’s nascent presidential hopes alive than with exposing the truth when details of the scandal surfaced three years ago.
Critchley called Gov. Chris Christie and his inner circle “cowards” for not testifying against a former staffer on trial for using gridlock for political retaliation to punish Democratic Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich who didn’t endorse Christie in closing arguments Monday in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial.
Critchley also set out to obliterate the reputation of former Port Authority official David Wildstein. He was the government’s primary witness against the defendants and a longtime friend of Christie’s.
Critchley called Wildstein the Bernie Madoff of New Jersey politics – the governor’s “cleanup guy.” Critchley suggested that Wildstein was motivated by his aspirations to go to Washington with Christie, who back in 2013 was still a hot prospect for president.
Kelly’s defense portrayed her as an outside. The defense contended that she was part of the inner circle that amounted to a boys’ club, and that stuck to a “message” that Christie knew nothing about Fort Lee. The defense said everyone was told they should repeat that message if asked, even if under oath.
“The inner circle, they know what the code is: ‘Chris Christie knows nothing.’ Bridget Kelly has a different version, and that makes her dangerous. They want that mother of four to take the fall for them. Cowards. Cowards.”
The defense did not call Christie to testify, figuring he would just deny and no one could prove otherwise.
Cupping his hands as if holding a megaphone, Critchley nearly yelled, “Chris Christie, where are you?”
When asked how she was feeling at the end of the trial, Kelly said, “I’m very good, thank you.”
The scandal unfolded at a time when Christie was on the brink of a runaway re-election victory and was considered a top Republican presidential contender. He wasn’t charged, but the story dogged him through a failed presidential bid.
Kelly and Baroni testified earlier in the trial that they believed former Port Authority official David Wildstein when he told them the realignment of access lanes to the bridge on four days in September 2013 was part of a traffic study. Massive gridlock ensued, and Mayor Mark Sokolich’s pleas went unanswered for four days on orders from Wildstein, the defendants testified.
Critchley on Monday called Wildstein, a former political blogger and high school classmate of Christie’s who pleaded guilty last year, “the Bernie Madoff of New Jersey politics.” Wildstein testified that both Kelly and Baroni were fully aware of the scheme to punish Sokolich.
In a rebuttal summation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna urged jurors to ignore the insinuations about Christie and others and focus on the evidence against the two defendants, which he called “devastating.”
Khanna said the case wasn’t about who could have been charged or who could have been called to testify.
Critchley “wants you to make it about whether Chris Christie lied,” he told jurors. “He wants to distract you from the core of the case. Why? Because the evidence against his client is devastating.”
In his closing argument Friday, Baroni’s attorney also assailed Wildstein, who worked for Baroni at the Port Authority, as Christie’s hatchet man at the agency and a liar whose testimony shouldn’t be trusted.
Kelly wrote the infamous “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email the month before the lane closures. She testified she deleted that email and others because she was scared people in Christie’s administration who knew of the lane closures weren’t being forthcoming.
Kelly and Baroni each face charges including conspiracy, fraud and deprivation of civil rights. The most serious, wire fraud conspiracy, carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
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