Prosecutors mining emails in the Bridgegate trial give Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff the third degree. Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, but NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was there.
Aron: The government put Bridget Kelly through a day of tough questioning today.
Federal prosecutor Vikas Khanna asked her about her famous email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
She told the jurors that wording had originally come from Port Authority operative David Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty in the case.
Kelly: “He told me in August there would be traffic problems in Fort Lee. I parroted that when I told the governor. I parroted it to Kevin O’Dowd, the chief of staff. And I parroted that to David Wildstein in the email. Those words are why we are here today,” she told the jury, “but they are not as they appear.”
Kelly maintains she thought the tie-up on the George Washington Bridge and in Fort Lee was part of a legitimate traffic study.
Asked why she sent Wildstein the email, “Is it wrong that I’m smiling?”, she said she was thinking of all the kids being made late to school in Fort Lee, not about revenge against the Fort Lee mayor for not endorsing Chris Christie’s re-election.
Khanna asked her why she would later delete these and other sensitive emails. Kelly replied, “I was scared, and so I deleted emails. When everyone else started forgetting what they knew, I did what I had to do.”
Kelly said the governor had yelled at her and cursed at her in her first few months as deputy chief of staff in 2013, and she was afraid of getting into trouble.
Khanna portrayed her as an ambitious operative eager to work her way into the governor’s inner circle.
Khanna showed how politicized her unit — IGA, for Intergovernmental Affairs — had become by 2013, the year of Christie’s re-election.
They had a spreadsheet on every possible Democratic mayoral endorsement.
They used invitations to NFL games and breakfasts at Drumthwacket to woo potential prospects.
Kelly testified she had good relationships with David Wildstein and with Bill Stepien, her predecessor at IGA who went on to become the 2013 campaign manager.
She said Wildstein once told her, “In politics the two most important characteristics are the ‘insanity’ gene and the ‘dead to me’ gene.”
Kelly and her co-defendant Bill Baroni are on trial for, among other things, conspiring with Wildstein to misuse Port Authority property.
Khanna walked her through the many ways Wildstein, Baroni and the governor’s office used what they called the Port Authority “goody bag” to ingratiate the governor with various officials.
Khanna: “You understand Port Authority resources could be used in those ways.”
Kelly: “I understand that, yes.”
Khanna: “And you used Port Authority resources in that way, didn’t you?”
Kelly’s response was inaudible.
State Democrats commented on the trial today.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg wants the $8 million the state spent on the Mastro Report refunded, since it was commissioned by Christie and absolved him.
Weinberg: It is so evident for anybody who follows the trial that what we thought about the Mastro Report at its very beginning is accurate. It was a campaign piece for Gov. Christie who was planning to become President Christie and had to get this out of the way.
Aron: We asked if the trial has hurt Christie’s credibility.
Steve Sweeney: I don’t think it’s helping his poll numbers, that’s for damn sure. We’ll see what happens with the trial. I’m not someone that jumps to the end of the book. I wait until it ends and then I read it and make my own mind up at that point. So, you know, the governor’s, obviously, his poll numbers have struggled from it. We’ll see what the trial comes out with at the outcome. If anybody knows how it’s going to finish up, I’d like them to tell me.
Aron: In court today, the prosecutor pointed out three different witnesses whose testimony contradicted Bridget Kelly’s.
Kelly held her ground and got through the day without cracking.
After court recessed, Kelly’s attorney Michael Critchley went outside to face the cameras.
“Was this Bridget Kelly’s toughest day?” a reporter asked.
The veteran defense attorney replied, “Once you’re indicted, every day is tough.”