Icy Bridgegate Defendant Says Christie Is to Blame

10/25/2016 2:59:00 PM, Nick Rummell
     NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Grilled by a federal prosecutor over her role in New Jersey's politically engineered traffic jam of 2013, Bridget Anne Kelly put the blame Tuesday squarely on Gov. Chris Christie and David Wildstein.
     In contrast to her weepy testimony Monday during direct examination, 44-year-old Kelly today alternated between polite, irritated, calmly combative and icy.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna Christie's erstwhile deputy chief of staff punctuated her testimony today with repeated statements that any actions she took were "as per the governor" and misplaced trust in Wildstein, his trusted ally.
     In the trial of Kelly and co-defendant Bill Baroni Jr., wrapping up soon after six weeks, Wildstein was the government's star witness. As part of a guilty plea last year, Wildstein admitted that he orchestrated the closure of two lanes leading onto the busy George Washington Bridge as political retribution in September 2013.
     Christie had appointed Wildstein to the public agency that runs the bridge, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and several witnesses have testified to Wildstein's role at the agency as that of Christie's "enforcer."
     The lane closures mired commuters, emergency vehicles and school buses in gridlock traffic for four days, hitting hardest in the bridge-adjacent city of Fort Lee where Mayor Mark Sokolich had recently declined to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election.
     Though the defense has cast Kelly as a glorified "scheduler" for the governor, prosecutors have made much of email and text activity that implicates the mother of four in the plot.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna grilled Kelly today about a reply she sent Wildstein on the second day of the lane shutdown.
     Wildstein had forwarded a message by Sokolich pleading for help, saying how "maddening" the lane closures had become and that children were having trouble getting to school.
     Kelly asked Wildstein via text in reply, "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?"
     She also said: "I feel badly for the kids. I guess."
     Increasingly frustrated at the prosecutor's rapid-fire interrogation, Kelly asked, "May I now explain that?"
     Kelly did offer an explanation Monday, repeating it today for the court. She said Wildstein told her that the lane closures were part of a traffic study, that she was glad the study was working, and that she sincerely felt badly that children stuck in traffic was a side-effect of that study.
     "David was talking about the children sitting on the bus. I was not," Kelly said icily to Khanna. "That's David Wildstein. It's not Bridget Kelly."
     Kelly admitted to deleting those text messages — as well as numerous other texts and emails—during the cross-examination, noting that she was frightened after Christie and others in the office began to state they had no memory of her discussions about the lanes.
     "I was very scared," she told the court.
     Kelly also tried to explain her infamous Aug. 12, 2013, email to Wildstein: "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
     "Totally poor choice of words," the defendant said today, adding that she was merely communicating to Wildstein that he should go ahead with the purported traffic study.
     "It was shorthand," Kelly said.
     Shorthand was also how Kelly explained another infamous message in which Wildstein told Kelly during the lane shutdown that Sokolich's complaints had been given "radio silence."
     Kelly's co-defendant Baroni is under fire for a similar exchange with Wildstein, his colleague at the Port Authority, about "radio silence."
     Though prosecutors say it showed purposeful intent to let Sokolich's calls go unanswered, Kelly said she interpreted it as meaning that Wildstein and Baroni simply had been unable to connect with Sokolich.
     Khanna linked the treatment of Sokolich to the similar "radio silence" that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop faced by Christie's staffers after a falling out of favor with the governor.
     On Sept. 9, 2013 — the first day of the lane closures — Wildstein wrote to Kelly: "Radio silence. His name comes right after mayor Fulop."
     Kelly said the two examples were totally different.
     "Mayor Fulop was iced, yes, you are correct, on orders from the governor," Kelly said. "There was no reason for Mayor Sokolich to be iced or boxed out or anything."
     To compare the situations of the two Democratic mayors was "just wrong," Kelly added.
     She noted that Christie did not even need Sokolich's endorsement in 2013 as he enjoyed a 30-point lead in the election over his opponent.
     Kelly also denied that she bore Sokolich any ill will. "I have never, I didn't, and I don't," Kelly said.
     Khanna noted that Kelly's recollections of the lane shutdown differed from the testimony of several other witnesses, including Kelly's former colleagues Christopher Stark, Matt Mowers and Jeanne Ashmore.
     Stark had testified that, after asking Kelly whether he could reach out to Sokolich in August 2013, she replied: "No, we are doing enough to mess with him."
     Mowers had recounted Kelly asking him prior to the lane shutdown about whether Sokolich had agreed to endorse Christie for re-election.
     Ashmore, who handled constituent complaints to the governor's office, testified that she had told Kelly about angry phone calls regarding Fort Lee's lanes, during which Kelly merely smiled and said "OK."
     One by one Khanna rattled off the differences. "All false testimony, correct?"
     Kelly refused to accuse her former co-workers of having lied under oath, instead explaining that in each case the other witnesses either misremembered what had happened or that their testimony was incomplete.
     Cross-examination of Kelly will continue Wednesday. The case is expected to wrap up by the end of the week, after which the jury will deliberate and issue its verdict.