NEWARK, N.J. — Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, continued her testimony on Monday defending herself from fraud and conspiracy charges in the Bridgegate scandal, which could land her in prison for up to 20 years.
At the center of her testimony, though, was someone else — her former boss, who Kelly appears to be trying to paint as the knowledgeable actor, and possibly even a knowing instigator, in the traffic debacle. At least one major player in New Jersey politics believes that account, which could have as serious an outcome for Christie as it could for Kelly.
A major part of the defense presentation on Monday were video segments of Chris Christie at a solo news conference on Dec. 13, 2013, where he takes responsibility for the enormous traffic backup on the George Washington Bridge in September of that year, but he denies any knowledge of it prior to December 2013.
However, on the witness stand on Monday, Kelly, who, through her email calling “for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” is accused of also helping to cause the Bridgegate mess, said damning things about the governor.
She indicated that Christie not only knew ahead of time about a potential congestion, causing traffic study on the New Jersey side of the bridge that connects the Garden State with New York. She also said, numerous times, that she and Christie had discussed the traffic snafu in the weeks between it happening and the news conference, where Christie and the rest of the staff denied it all.
“I was petrified,” Kelly said on the stand, with tears in her eyes, “because now nobody was acting like they knew anything about Fort Lee.”
At Christie’s big news conference, he denied having had a conversation with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — New Jersey’s partner in the Port Authority —about how to handle the political fallout from Bridgegate.
On the stand, however, Kelly said that Christie met with senior staff just before the Dec. 13 news conference. Christie mentioned Patrick Foye, the head of the Port Authority, at the meeting, Kelly said. Foye had been critical of the bridge shutdown. According to Kelly’s testimony, Christie said that “he[‘d] told Cuomo to tell Pat Foye to back the f*** off.”
But Rich Azzopardi, Senior Deputy Communications Director for Gov. Cuomo, said in a statement to PIX11 News:
“As we have said, it is well known that there were long time tensions between New York and New Jersey staff at the Port Authority before, during and after Bridgegate that were discussed at all levels. Once again, at no time were there any conversations between the governors concerning a ‘plan’ to have Pat Foye stand down or to have the issue ‘whitewashed’ through a report. Pat Foye was, in fact, a whistle-blower.”
Kelly was not necessarily helped in her defense against a conspiracy and fraud conviction when she admitted, choking back tears again, “I had documents. I deleted them, because I panicked.”
When her attorney asked her why, she said, “When the governor and everyone around him started denying.”
Still, Loretta Weinstein, the New Jersey state senate majority leader who’d led an investigation into Bridgegate, was in court on Monday, listening to the testimony.
Weinstein, a Democrat, said it showed that Christie didn’t care about the truth in the wake of the Bridgegate scandal or about the well being of his state’s residents. He just cared about his political future, Weinstein said.
“It was all a constituency of one,” she said to the dozen or so waiting cameras on the courthouse steps. “That was the atmosphere that was set and this is the result.”
Christie has continued to stand by his account. He has been subpoenaed to testify regarding any possible role he played in Bridgegate, and had agreed to appear in court. That’s not scheduled to happen until Nov. 23.