Christie, Kelly Discussed Bridge Closings, Lawyer SuggestsBy
Attorney asks witness whether Kelly told Christie about jams
Ex-Christie aide Gramiccioni testifies in trial’s fourth week
A defense lawyer at the trial of former allies of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suggested through questioning that the governor was told about lane closings at the George Washington Bridge before it occurred and while it was happening, contradicting the governor’s repeated denials.
The questions came Tuesday from Michael Critchley, an attorney for Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff who’s accused of conspiring to close access lanes on the bridge in September 2013 to create gridlock and punish a local mayor for not backing the governor’s re-election. She’s on trial with Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which runs the bridge, who’s facing the same charges.
Critchley asked Deborah Gramiccioni, another former Christie adviser, two pointed questions that may foreshadow Kelly’s testimony when she takes the witness stand in federal court in Newark, where the trial entered its fourth week.
“Did you know that Bridget Kelly and the governor had discussions about the governor’s knowledge of the lane closures before they occurred?” Critchley asked. “I did not know that to be the case,” Gramiccioni said.
“Did you know that Bridget Kelly and the governor had discussions about the lane closures during the occurrence of the lane closures?,” Critchley said. “I did not know that to be the case,” Gramiccioni replied.
Gramiccioni also said Christie “appeared to be visibly upset” when she told him in December 2013, before the scandal came to light, that Kelly had e-mails discussing the lane closings.
Baroni’s right-hand man at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and previously testified that he and Baroni bragged about the lane closings to Christie while they took place. So far, jurors have heard no evidence that Kelly also told the governor about the plot.
Gramiccioni testified that she spoke to Baroni in December 2013, and he told her that Kelly had e-mails discussing the lane closings. Gramiccioni said she told Christie about the e-mails on Dec. 12, 2013, the day before the governor announced her appointment to replace Baroni at the Port Authority. Christie had secretly asked her to take the job the day after his re-election that November, she said.
“I told him that a hum, I used the word ‘hum,’ that Bridget was on e-mails relating to the lane closures,” Gramiccioni told jurors. “He appeared visibly concerned to hear that.”
The scandal became national news in January 2014, with publication of an e-mail that Kelly wrote in Aug. 13, 2013 that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The recipient was Wildstein, who has testified as a prosecution witness.
Gramiccioni testified that she had lunch that same day in August with Kelly and the governor. Critchley didn’t ask her for details about the meeting.
Gramiccioni said that on Dec. 13, 2013, Christie screamed at his senior staff before his news conference and said they had one hour to come forward with information about the lane closings.
“The governor was incredibly angry and let us know how angry he was,” Gramiccioni testified. Christie “in a thunderous tone told us how disappointed he was that he had just won a landslide victory and now he’s dealing with a number of things, one of them being the lane closures.”
After that meeting, Gramiccioni said, she passed by Kelly’s office and saw her there with Christie’s then-chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien. Kelly had been “visibly crying,” she said. Gramiccioni stepped inside and asked her what was wrong.
“She said she had been looking at her computer through her e-mails all morning and she didn’t know if she had any e-mail regarding the lane closure,” Gramiccioni said. “She adamantly denied having anything to do with the lane closures.”
Prosecutors also called two leaders of the Port Authority police union, Paul Nunziato and Mike DeFilippis, who contradicted testimony that Baroni gave to a state legislative committee in late November 2013.
Nunziato told jurors that he and DeFilippis, known as Flip, met with Baroni at his Port Authority office in New York before his legislative appearance. Baroni asked him to back a false account that police union leaders asked Wildstein for a safety study at the bridge, Nunziato said.
As they were leaving, Nunziato said: “I slid my hand up on his back and I said, ‘Leave Flip and me the (expletive) out of it.”
“I don’t know why they did the traffic study. I wasn’t involved in the traffic study. I walked out,” Nunziato told jurors he said during the conversation. “I never had the conversations with Wildstein. And I wanted Mr. Baroni to be clear on that. He didn’t respond. I walked out the door.”
Wildstein had testified that the study was a phony cover story to conceal the punitive nature of the gridlock. Prosecutors showed jurors a video clip of Baroni’s testimony in which he told lawmakers that Nunziato and DeFilippis asked Wildstein for a traffic study.
Nunziato said that while Baroni’s testimony was false, the police union grudgingly went along with his claim for fear of retribution. Port Authority police officers backed Christie’s re-election after Wildstein courted them.
“I didn’t want retaliation from Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein,” Nunziato said. “I didn’t want to jeopardize my members.”
The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).