US & Canada

Senior aide testifies that Christie knew of Bridgegate plot

Bridget Kelly Image copyright AP
Image caption Bridget Kelly testified that she felt bullied by Governor Christie

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew in advance about bridge closures which prosecutors say was a political revenge plot, a former aide has testified.

Bridget Kelly, the governor's former deputy chief of staff, told a federal court she informed Mr Christie about the planned closures on two occasions.

The New Jersey governor has repeatedly denied knowing about the lane closures.

Ms Kelly, who is on trial for her role in the alleged plot, said she believed they were for a legitimate study.

Ms Kelly and Bill Baroni, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive, are facing conspiracy and fraud charges for allegedly closing part of the George Washington Bridge, a major bridge connecting New Jersey to New York City. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Federal prosecutors say the move was political retribution to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing the governor in his re-election bid.

Ms Kelly told a Newark court she discussed the closures with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in August 2013 and then again in September as the closures were ongoing.

She said Mr Christie told her in early August that the study was approved, and the next morning, she sent a now-infamous email to Port Authority executive David Wildstein, who has already admitted guilt for his role in the plot.

The fall and fall of Chris Christie

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," she said about the New Jersey town that the Christie administration had allegedly been trying to punish, after the Democrat mayor had refused to endorse Mr Christie his upcoming re-election.

In at statement on Friday, Mr Christie's press secretary, Brian Murray, said: "As the governor has said since January 9, 2014, the governor had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and he had no role in authorizing them."

"Anything said to the contrary is simply untrue," he continued.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Around four million vehicles pass the George Washington Bridge every month

What is 'Bridgegate'?

Mr Christie, who was once considered a favourite for the Republican presidential nomination, first became embroiled in the scandal in January 2014, when revelations from a series of emails and texts showed that traffic congestion on the George Washington Bridge may have been more than just routine maintenance.

Mr Christie's administration justified the closures as part of a "traffic study", but Port Authority officials later said the study did not exist.

The congestion ended after five days, when an aide to New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo reopened the lanes over concerns for public safety.

Federal prosecutors opened an investigation and indicted three members of Mr Christie's aides in 2015, alleging that two of the key bridge's three lanes were closed in retaliation over Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's refusal to endorse the governor in his re-election bid.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Christie has repeatedly denied knowing anything about the lane closures

Ms Kelly also recalled through tears an occasion when she says Mr Christie lost his temper and threw a water bottle at her after she suggested that he introduce local politicians at an event.

He asked if she thought him a "game show host", using an expletive before hurling the bottle at her.

She told the court that she had come to fear her boss, who she viewed as a bully.

On Friday, a political adviser to Mr Christie testified that he had told the governor that two of his aides knew of the alleged plot in advance, despite Mr Christie telling reporters that nobody from his administration was involved.

Revelations about "Bridgegate" have dogged Mr Christie, who endorsed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a surprising move after dropping out of the primary race earlier this year.

Mr Christie has become a prominent supporter of his former rival, Mr Trump, and manages the New York businessman's transition team should he win the White House.

Earlier this month, a judge signed a criminal summons accusing Mr Christie of misconduct for his alleged role in the closure, after activist Bill Brennan filed an official complaint.

The prosecutor's office will decide whether there is enough evidence to indict Mr Christie for official misconduct, which could lead to a sentence of five to 10 years in prison.

Mr Christie appointed the prosecutor who will review the case.

At the time, Christie spokesman Brian Murray said the ruling would be appealed and reiterated the governor had no knowledge of the plot.

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