Lawyer Says Ex-Aide and Christie Spoke of Bridge Plot Beforehand

NEWARK — Bridget Anne Kelly discussed the George Washington Bridge lane closings with her boss, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, before they happened in September 2013, her lawyer asserted in federal court here on Tuesday. She also discussed them with him the week they were happening.

The lawyer, Michael Critchley, did not elaborate on his cryptic claims, which he made while questioning a prosecution witness.

Testimony in the trial has shown that in the months after the lane closings, several of Mr. Christie’s top advisers had told him that Ms. Kelly, his former deputy chief of staff, had emails about the closings. Those people included his chief of staff, chief counsel, press secretary, chief political adviser and an aide he had tapped to lead the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

Yet Mr. Christie, a Republican, convened a staff meeting in December 2013 and angrily demanded to know if anyone had knowledge or emails about the closings. An hour later, he held a news conference where he said he was certain that none of his staff members had any knowledge of or had been involved in the scheme.

When emails with Ms. Kelly’s name appeared as a result of a legislative subpoena a month later, Mr. Christie held another news conference and declared that she had lied to him.

It was, Mr. Critchley said in court on Tuesday, a “sham.”

According to testimony in federal court here, where Ms. Kelly and another former Christie aide, Bill Baroni, are on trial for authorizing the lane closings and then covering them up, the governor’s office was not much concerned about finding the truth about the shutdown in the months after they took place.

Instead, the governor and his aides, keenly aware of Mr. Christie’s presidential ambitions and how a scandal could damage them, were more worried about keeping any evidence implicating his office hidden.

Cross-examining a former top Christie aide, Mr. Critchley offered tantalizing clues as to what Ms. Kelly may say on the stand about what Mr. Christie knew about the closings, which prosecutors say were meant to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for refusing to endorse the governor’s re-election.

Mr. Critchley asked the witness, Deborah Gramiccioni, who in 2013 was the governor’s deputy chief of staff for policy, if she recalled a lunch that she, Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie had in August that year, on the day Ms. Kelly sent her now-infamous email: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

No one — not prosecutors, nor David Wildstein, the Port Authority executive who received the email and ordered the lanes closed and is now the prosecution’s star witness — has ever explained why Ms. Kelly would have sent the email that day when the mayor had said months earlier that he would not endorse Mr. Christie.

Ms. Gramiccioni did not recall what was discussed that day.

Ms. Kelly, who has never publicly given her account, is expected to testify this month. Her lawyers have argued that virtually the entire governor’s office knew about the closings and that she has been made a scapegoat.

Mr. Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty to his role in the lane closings, has already testified that he told the governor about them as they were happening.

Ms. Gramiccioni testified she first heard that Ms. Kelly was looped into emails about the lane closings in December 2013, from Mr. Baroni, Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, and that the governor had asked Ms. Gramiccioni to succeed Mr. Baroni.

Ms. Gramiccioni said she shared the information with Charles McKenna, the governor’s chief counsel, who told her he had heard “something about that.”

But under cross-examination, she said Mr. McKenna did not mention that he had heard the same thing nearly two months earlier from Mr. Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, and had asked Ms. Kelly about it at the time.

Ms. Gramiccioni said that she then told Mr. Christie’s chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, about what Mr. Baroni had said about the lane-closing emails involving Ms. Kelly, and that Mr. O’Dowd said he would talk to Mr. Baroni about it.

Mr. Critchley pressed her: Did Mr. O’Dowd tell her that he had discussed the same subject with Mr. Christie and Mr. Drewniak a week earlier? Did he tell her he had already had a talk with Ms. Kelly earlier that day, asking her to comb through her emails?

“He did not,” Ms. Gramiccioni said.

Ms. Gramiccioni spoke to Mr. O’Dowd again the next day, Dec. 13, after Mr. Christie’s news conference, to report that she had seen Ms. Kelly in her office and that she seemed upset.

Mr. Critchley asked whether Mr. O’Dowd had told her that the governor’s political strategist, Michael DuHaime, had also told him about Ms. Kelly’s emails, and whether Mr. O’Dowd had told her Ms. Kelly had given him emails related to the lane closings.

“He did not,” Ms. Gramiccioni said.

Ms. Gramiccioni said she told Mr. Christie on Dec. 12 what Mr. Baroni had told her about emails including Ms. Kelly about the lane closings. Mr. Critchley asked if the governor had informed her that Mr. DuHaime had told him the same thing the previous day.

“I did not know that, nor did anyone tell me that,” she said.

On Dec. 13, Mr. Christie held his staff meeting, speaking in what Ms. Gramiccioni called a “thunderous” voice, telling his senior staff members that he would hold a news conference, and that “if we had any emails or any information about the lane closure, that we had one hour to get that information or those emails to Kevin or Charlie,” she testified, referring to Mr. O’Dowd and Mr. McKenna.

“Did you know he was lying? All that sound and fury was just made up?” Mr. Critchley asked, prompting an objection from the prosecution.

“Did he say, ‘the confessionals are open’?” Mr. Critchley asked.

“Language like that,” Ms. Gramiccioni said.

“Did you see the governor walk into one of those confessionals?” Mr. Critchley asked. The prosecution objected again.

“Did you ever ask them, ‘Did anyone ever go talk to Bridget Kelly and ask her what she knows about the lane closures?’” Mr. Critchley asked. Ms. Gramiccioni said she had not.

And how long would it take for Mr. O’Dowd to walk from his office to Ms. Kelly’s, he asked her.

“A couple of seconds,” Ms. Gramiccioni replied.

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