NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday hired a political adviser Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie cut ties with two years ago in the fallout from the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
Trump announced Bill Stepien, Christie’s former political guru, will fill the position of deputy assistant to the president and political director.
Christie was the first establishment Republican to back Trump. He was chairman of the president-elect’s transition team, and it seemed he was angling for a top spot in a Trump White House.
Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said the appointment is “dripping with irony.”
“This is a real diss against Chris Christie,” Murray told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “There’s no question that this whole appointment is dripping with irony.”
Murray said Stepien was Christie’s enforcer, and he assumes that he will fill that same function in the Trump administration.
Stepien, a close adviser who served as Christie’s campaign manager in 2009 and 2013, wasn’t charged in the so-called “Bridgegate” case. But his name cropped up repeatedly during testimony in the trial last fall of two former Christie allies charged in a political retaliation scheme.
David Wildstein, the government’s star witness who pleaded guilty, testified Stepien knew about the plan to close traffic lanes near the bridge in September 2013 to create gridlock to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie.
Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and a Stepien protege, and Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee to the bridge authority, were convicted in November. Stepien’s attorney has said his client had no role in the scheme or an ensuing cover-up.
When thousands of pages of emails and texts related to the case were released in early 2014, Christie fired Kelly and cut ties with Stepien, asking him to withdraw a bid to become the next state GOP chairman.
At the time, Christie said he was disturbed by the “callous indifference” displayed by Stepien in some of the emails. Other emails appeared to show Wildstein and Kelly mocking the Fort Lee mayor’s increasingly desperate pleas for relief from the traffic jams.
Wildstein also testified Stepien helped formulate a strategy for Christie staffers to use the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operator of the George Washington Bridge, as a source of political favors to gain endorsements from Democrats.
Before his association with Christie, Stepien was national field director for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign and then worked with John McCain’s campaign in the general election.
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