In a dramatic refutation of Gov. Chris Christie's long-standing insistence that he knew nothing about the traffic study that led to the Bridgegate traffic jams, the governor's former deputy chief of staff told a federal jury that she notified the governor before sending the infamous "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email.
Bridget Kelly, facing federal criminal charges in the scheme, worked through tears as she also described an unrelated instance where an irate Christie threw a water bottle at her, hitting her arm, because he didn't like her idea for a public event.
Kelly claimed to have no idea that the lanes were closed to punish a local mayor for not endorsing Christie, as federal prosecutors and a former gubernatorial appointee allege. And she said she cleared the plan with Christie on Aug. 12, 2013, a month before lanes were closed for the supposed traffic study.
The admitted conspirator in the scheme, Port Authority official David Wildstein, had told Kelly that the study would allow Christie to change the traffic patterns at the bridge and improve the flow of vehicles. He would be able to trumpet this improvement, Wildstein told Kelly, at a joint press conference with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"I said, 'Governor, by the way, I spoke to Wildstein today. Apparently the Port Authority is going to be doing a traffic study in Fort Lee.' I explained the access lanes to him," Kelly testified.
"He said, 'OK, when are they doing this?' I said, [Wildstein] did say there's going to be a tremendous traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley, then asked Kelly: "How did the governor react?"
"He really didn’t react," Kelly said. "He said, 'That's fine.' He said, 'How’s our relationship with Mayor Sokolich?'"
That's when Kelly sent the "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" without really thinking about the language -- it was a reference, she said, to how Wildstein had told her this would cause traffic.
Looking at the jury, Kelly said: "I’m pretty sure if I had said, 'Time for a traffic study in Fort Lee,' we wouldn’t all know each other now."
Kelly also testified that Christie himself told her that he had spoken about the lane closures with Wildstein during a ceremony at Ground Zero while the traffic jams were still ongoing.
"He said Mayor Sokolich had reached out to the Port Authority and Wildstein told the governor he was handling it," Kelly testified. "And I said, 'I know the mayor had reached out about it being a safety issue.'"
Kelly then testified that Christie told her the Port Authority was handling the situation and that Wildstein was reaching out to Fort Lee.
Wildstein, as a witness for the prosecution, said that he bragged about the traffic in Fort Lee to the governor during the Ground Zero ceremony. Wildstein claimed the governor made a sarcastic remark that Wildstein would never ignore the calls of the Fort Lee mayor, which Wildstein testified he understood to mean that, of course, he should ignore the mayor's calls.
The governor has denied all of this, saying he didn't even know about the traffic study until he read about it afterward in the newspapers. The taxpayer-funded attorneys he hired described Kelly as emotional after a romantic relationship ended with Bill Stepien, a Trump campaign staffer who at the time was managing Christie's reelection campaign.
On Friday, Brian Murray, Christie's Press Secretary said in a statement: "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."
Kelly's testimony continues Monday. She has yet to address evidence that indicates she made light of the traffic jams while they were happening.