NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not on trial for Bridgegate, but there was plenty of testimony about him at the conspiracy and fraud trial of one of his former senior staff members on Friday, and it did not show him in a favorable light, to say the least.
That testimony, from Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, not only left her in tears more than once during the hearing, it also indicated that the governor knew well ahead of time that a potential traffic nightmare had been planned for the entrance to the George Washington Bridge.
Kelly is probably best known for an email she wrote August 13, 2013, that was leaked days after the Sept. 9 bridge traffic debacle: "Time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee."
She had written that email to David Wildstein, a senior executive at the Port Authority and Christie friend, who has pled guilty to intentionally organizing a traffic study that produced severe, day-long traffic congestion, as an act of revenge against Ft. Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, in retaliation for his not endorsing Christie's re-election bid.
In federal court on Friday, Kelly tried hard to distance herself from Wildstein's actions. Her attorney displayed an email she'd received from Wildstein on August 12th, a day before Kelly's infamous email saying there would be traffic problems.
"I have an issue to discuss with you," Wildstein writes in the one-sentence email, "extraordinarily weird, even by my standards."
Kelly testified that Wildstein then told her by phone that he'd wanted do do a traffic study at the George Washington Bridge that would ultimately show how traffic could be managed there. The ultimate goal, Kelly claimed Wildstein had told her, was to hold an event next to the bridge, at which Governor Christie and his New York counterpart, Andrew Cuomo, could publicly take credit for what Wildstein anticipated would be traffic improvements.
However, Kelly said on the stand, she warned Christie that day of the possible worst case scenario. "I said, 'by the way, the Port Authority is doing a traffic study in Ft. Lee. [Wildstein] did say there's going to be tremendous traffic problems in Fort Lee.'"
Kelly went on to testify, "The governor asked, 'What is our relationship with Mayor Sokolich?' I said, 'I don't know. I just don't know.'"
If that account is true, it would mean Chris Christie knew about Bridgegate weeks before it happened, contrary to what he's always claimed. It also shows he was curious about loyalty to his re-election campaign at the time by Ft. Lee's mayor.
Another part of Kelly's testimony reinforces that impression that Christie had a deep-seated need for bipartisan loyalty to him during the then-re-election season.
In an unrelated incident around that same time, Kelly set up a meeting that involved Gov. Christie and one of his critics, Democratic Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop.
"No one's entitled to a f***ing meeting!" the governor shouted at her, she said. "He felt no one was entitled to a meeting with Steve Fulop, and I didn't want to ask," she said on the stand, openly crying as she recalled the incident.
It was one of at least three times she was in tears on the stand on Friday. The second also involved alleged aggressive behavior by her former boss.
The Bridgegate traffic nightmare happened September 9, 2013. Three days later, the iconic Seaside Heights Pier, on the Jersey Shore, went up in flames. Kelly had set up a round table forum between Gov. Christie and some small businesspeople who'd suffered great financial loss in the fire.
Kelly had suggested that Christie host the roundtable and introduce the participants. Recalling what happened next, Kelly choked up on the witness stand.
"He had a water bottle in his hand," she testified. "He said, 'What do you think I am, a f***ing game show host?'" and he then threw the bottle of water at her, hitting her in the arm.
She definitely painted a picture of an emotionally volatile Chris Christie, who has denied he had any information about the lane closures and has not been charged.
A judge ruled last week there is probable cause for an official misconduct complaint to move forward against Christie. The governor is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 23.