'Bridgegate' witness says Christie campaign manager knew of plot
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly stands outside Mercer County Criminal Court in Trenton, New Jersey March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar
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By Joseph Ax
NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) - The one-line email to David Wildstein, an executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, arrived at 7:35 a.m. on Aug. 13, 2013.
"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," wrote Bridget Anne Kelly, a top aide to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Weeks later, thousands of cars were stuck in a mammoth traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, after Wildstein had executed the plan, he testified on Monday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. He had closed access lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, to punish the town's mayor for refusing to back Christie's re-election bid.
Wildstein also testified that Bill Stepien, the campaign manager for both Christie's successful gubernatorial runs, knew about the plot. Stepien is now an adviser to the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The testimony came as prosecutors continued to present evidence against Kelly and Bill Baroni, another Port Authority executive. Both Baroni and Wildstein were Christie appointees.
The two defendants face charges including conspiracy and fraud. Wildstein has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.
Though Wildstein conceived the plan, he said he was acting with the approval of Baroni, his superior at the Port Authority, and Kelly.
"Ms. Kelly was the deputy chief of staff to the governor," he said. "She was among the people I considered my boss."
After Kelly's email set the plan in motion, Wildstein said Stepien asked about a cover story. Wildstein testified that he told Stepien he would invent a fake traffic study.
In an email, Stepien's lawyer, Kevin Marino, said his client had "no role" in the scheme and has not been charged despite an exhaustive government investigation.
"Mr. Wildstein's sad and self-serving accusations from the witness stand may help him avoid prison for his admitted crimes, but they will not help the jury or the public learn the truth," Marino added.
On Friday, Wildstein outlined how Christie's office turned the Port Authority into a "goodie bag" from which to dispense favors to favored local officials.
Christie has denied knowing about the scheme, which damaged his unsuccessful presidential bid. Prosecutors said at the trial's outset that the governor was aware of the lane closures at the time.
On the morning of Sept. 9, 2013, Wildstein went to the bridge to see his handiwork before calling Kelly to report the traffic was "an absolute mess."
"She was pleased," Wildstein said.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)
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