Former Christie aide embroiled in Bridgegate scandal gets Trump White House job

By Matt Arco | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 04, 2017

Bill Stepien, a former top aide to Gov. Chris Christie.

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TRENTON -- Gov. Chris Christie's former top political adviser who he cut ties with in the immediate aftermath of the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal will serve as White House political director and deputy assistant to the president.

President-elect Donald Trump announced Wednesday that Bill Stepien will assume the role after the Republican is inaugurated later this month. Stepien joined Trump's presidential campaign over the summer.

Stepien managed both of Christie's gubernatorial campaigns and served in his senior staff

But the governor pushed him out of his circle and stripped him of jobs in the New Jersey GOP and the Republican Governors Association after a January 2014 Bridgegate document dump revealed details of George Washington Bridge lane shutdowns prosecutors said were orchestrated to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich with massive traffic jams because he refused to endorse the governor's re-election. 

After the documents were released, Christie said the e-mails showed Stepien demonstrated "callous indifference" for Sokolich.

More recently, prosecutors in the Bridgegate criminal trial suggested Stepien helped create a culture in Christie's office that led to the lane closure scandal that rocked Christie's administration and is credited with sinking the governor's own White House ambitions.

Stepien, who wasn't charged in the Bridgegate scandal, was a recurring character in documents prosecutors used as evidence in the criminal trial against former Christie senior staffer Bridget Anne Kelly and the governor's former top appointee to the Port Authority, Bill Baroni.

"Boom, thanks," Stepien emailed Kelly after she told him meetings with a New Jersey mayor had been canceled because the elected official wasn't cooperating with Christie's office, Kelly testified.

Kelly expressed remorse in the emails and told Stepien she felt bad.

"No," Stepien responded in the email. "This is perfect. It will send a good message to this guy."

A jury found Baroni and Kelly guilty in November of all charges related to the scheme. A third person, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty for federal crimes related to his role.

Wildstein testified he talked to Stepien about the scheme shortly after prosecutors said Kelly sent Wildstein the "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email.

Stepien, at the time, was heading Christie's 2013 gubernatorial campaign. Prior to that, Stepien served as Christie's deputy chief of staff and was considered the governor's political guru, helping Christie win his first statewide campaign in 2009.

"I told Mr. Stepien that I had heard from Miss Kelly to close the Fort Lee lanes and that I was moving forward to do so," Wildstein told jurors. "Mr. Stepien asked about what story we were going to use and I explained to Mr. Stepien that I was going to create the cover of a traffic study."

Stepien eventually reemerged on the New Jersey political scene despite being pushed out of Christie's circle.

In April, Stepien was named the executive director of a non-profit think tank called Building a Better New Jersey Together that's a likely prelude to a Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno bid to become Christie's successor.

Stepien resigned from the group at the end of December, said Lisa Camooso Miller, who serves on BBNJT's board.

"Building a Better New Jersey congratulates Bill Stepien on being named political director for President-elect Trump," she said. "Bill's contribution to BBNJT has helped position the organization to offer the ideas and solutions that will move our state forward."

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