In Bridge Trial, Prosecutors Portray Ex-Christie Aide as Eager Warrior

NEWARK — A former aide to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is now on trial for her role in the George Washington Bridge lane closings, followed what she called “the company line” in icing out politicians and groups not supporting the governor, taking her cues from Mr. Christie and his closest advisers.

Prosecutors in federal court here used texts and emails to show the former aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, as an eager warrior in the ferocious politics of Mr. Christie’s world, modeling herself on the governor and his campaign manager, who encouraged her fondness for grudges and helped her develop a “dead-to-me gene.”

Under questioning from her own lawyer on Monday, Ms. Kelly described herself as “petrified” by a volatile, micromanaging governor. Trying to save herself from his next eruption, she said, she kept him informed every step of the way about the lane closings — believing they were just a traffic study, and not, as later revealed, a plot to punish a mayor who had refused to endorse the governor’s re-election.

But during cross-examination on Tuesday, prosecutors portrayed her as ruthless and calculating, gleefully using the resources of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, to reward the governor’s friends and punish his enemies.

They did not challenge her assertion that she had told Mr. Christie, a Republican, about the lane closings before they happened in September 2013 and again as they were continuing. But they pushed back at Ms. Kelly’s insistence that she did not know that the closings were intended to punish the mayor, Mark J. Sokolich of Fort Lee, N.J., a Democrat.

As prosecutors described it, Mr. Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, mentored Ms. Kelly. But she took over his job and his role as political enforcer in the weeks before she sent her now-famous email: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Ms. Kelly and her co-defendant, Bill Baroni, once Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, are accused of directing the lane closings to punish Mr. Sokolich, and then covering them up as a traffic study. Both say they were told of that story from David Wildstein, Mr. Christie’s onetime enforcer at the agency, who has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the shutdown and is now cooperating with prosecutors.

Vikas Khanna, an assistant United States attorney, withered Ms. Kelly’s attempts to explain away seemingly incriminating messages she sent before and during the week of the lane closings, particularly her response when Mr. Wildstein forwarded a text from the mayor about difficulties getting children to school.

“Is it wrong that I’m smiling?” Ms. Kelly wrote. “I feel badly about the kids. I guess.”

Ms. Kelly testified on Monday that she had been smiling because Mr. Wildstein’s purported study was working to move traffic faster across the main highway on the bridge. “You didn’t say, ‘David, I’m happy for you that the study’s working,’” Mr. Khanna said. And, he noted, she deleted that text, along with others showing her involvement in the lane closings.

Mr. Khanna argued that an earlier attempt to punish a mayor — Steven M. Fulop of Jersey City — had been a warm-up for Fort Lee.

Mr. Stepien had Ms. Kelly set up a series of meetings with administration officials and Mr. Fulop just after he took office in July 2013. When Mr. Fulop, a Democrat, later declined to endorse Mr. Christie, Mr. Stepien and the governor’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, instructed her to cancel the meetings in pointed fashion: She was to have each official call Mr. Fulop, one after another, and cancel the meetings, citing a scheduling conflict. Ms. Kelly wrote to Mr. Stepien that she felt bad about having to cancel. “No, this is perfect,” Mr. Stepien wrote her. “It will send a good message to this guy.”

When she wrote to tell him that “all meetings have been canceled,” Mr. Stepien wrote back, “Boom. Thanks.”

“Boom,” Mr. Khanna repeated. “That was the sound of the message being delivered to Mayor Fulop, right?”

Ms. Kelly insisted she had been scared into following orders. Mr. Christie had earlier marched into her office and snarled about Mr. Fulop, cursing that no one was “entitled” to a meeting.

But Mr. Khanna continued to present her with emails in which she expressed annoyance at Mr. Fulop and satisfaction that he was being frozen out.

“I told David to continue to ice him,” Mr. Stepien wrote to her in July 2013.

“Good, thanks,” Ms. Kelly responded. When Mr. Fulop pressed for meetings, Mr. Stepien instructed her that the response was to be “radio silence.”

Ms. Kelly said she understood those words to mean that Mr. Fulop was to be frozen out.

But she testified that when Mr. Wildstein used those same words two months later regarding Fort Lee, she did not believe there was any intent to punish the mayor. It merely meant that Mr. Baroni had not been able to reach him on the telephone, she said.

Mr. Khanna suggested that Ms. Kelly had been an eager student of Mr. Stepien’s, Mr. Christie’s campaign manager.

In summer 2013, Mr. Stepien forwarded her an email from Mr. Wildstein, who noted that the governor’s office had sent a “message” to the carpenters’ union for not endorsing Mr. Christie; it was the only union not on stage behind the governor at an event at the Bayonne Bridge.

“Screw the carpenters,” Mr. Stepien wrote her.

“Wildstein’s great,” she wrote back.

Ms. Kelly explained she merely admired Mr. Wildstein’s work organizing the event. “He worked to make sure it was a successful event for the governor,” she said.

Mr. Khanna argued that Mr. Stepien had been her mentor — when Ms. Kelly took his job as deputy chief of staff in April 2013, she wrote to Mr. Stepien that he was “an incredible mentor.”

In another email, Mr. Stepien criticized a Republican legislator.

“Keep him in the memory bank,” Mr. Stepien wrote her.

“The memory bank of holding grudges, right?” Mr. Khanna asked her. Her response to the email from Mr. Stepien was, “Love holding a grudge, thanks.”

“You viewed Mr. Stepien as your mentor, right?” Mr. Khanna asked her.

“The governor told me to use Mr. Stepien as my resource, because he had institutional knowledge of my current role,” she said, adding, “Mentor and resource, I see them as really the same thing.”

Mr. Khanna showed her another email in which Ms. Kelly had told Mr. Wildstein that Mr. Stepien was trying to teach her a “dead-to-me gene” — suggesting she had learned it well by the time Mr. Sokolich began pleading for relief from the traffic jams in Fort Lee.

“‘Dead-to-me gene’ essentially means no contact,” Mr. Khanna said.

“Not always,” Ms. Kelly replied.

“‘Dead to me’ means you have no contact,” Mr. Khanna pressed.

“Sure,” Ms. Kelly allowed.

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