Bridget Anne Kelly, the former aide to Gov. Chris Christie on trial in federal court in Newark, had a good day Tuesday (10/4/16) thanks to the cross-examination work of her lawyer, Michael Critchley.
Critchley’s not argumentative, not bombastic. He doesn’t intimidate. And, when he’s discussing a set piece with government witness David Wildstein in the continuing political soap opera known as Bridgegate, he might as well be at a bar in West Orange trading comments about a playoff game with neighborhood denizens. Forceful but friendly.
And that’s how, in just one day, Critchley led Wildstein into two important admissions in front of the jury that tended to exculpate Kelly, his client. Almost three.
The first was that, in the middle of a discussion about how all the Big Boys running the state were discussing how to put together a package of lies to be foisted on the people of the state as a “report” on how the traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge happened, Critchley went down a list of about five top aides to Christie who were authors and then slipped in:
“Ms. Kelly had nothing to do with the report, did she?”
“No, sir,” said Wildstein about the woman who was deputy chief of staff to Christie. This didn’t help Bill Baroni, her co-defendant, who was deputy executive director of the Port Authority–Wildstein said he was an author.
Now, Wildstein already has accused Kelly of “instructing” him to begin the Fort Lee blockade. It should strike the jurors as odd that, while she played a major role in the event itself, she played no role in putting together the cover-up story.
In another context, Critchley also got Wildstein to admit to saying about Kelly that “she never made a decision on her own.” The witness complained Critchley had confused him–but the words were out there for the jury to hear.
Critchley also came very close to getting Wildstein to admit that Christie “approved” the plan to close the Fort Lee lanes at the George Washington Bridge to punish the town’s Democratic mayor for failing to endorse the governor for re-election. Wildstein said virtually everything but–and that denied Critchey the opportunity to drive home the point that Kelly was only a small cog in the administrative gears: Christie and his fellow thugs-in-suits were in charge.
Reasonable doubt lurks here.
The second major highlight is really a question rather than a fact: Did Chris Christie, New Jersey’s governor and a Republican, and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat–or their top assistants–discuss the lane closures and did Cuomo order his people at the Port Authority to “lay off” inflaming opinion about Christie’s role, at least until after the November election?
This gets tied up with the alleged report Christie’s aides were supposed to write–it never got issued–and the narrative all but ran off the tracks. But not before Wildstein testified that, “My understanding is that Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo had discussed it.”
The government might have better witnesses than Wildstein to nail this down later. Still, those who have been following Bridgegate since its inception should contemplate this: Cuomo was absolutely silent about the traffic jams at the GWB when they occurred–and Patrick Foye, the Cuomo appointee who is the Port Authority’s executive director, did permit his agency to put out a false press statement saying the problems were caused by a “traffic study.”
It’s an easy inference that Foye allowed the lie to be published only after clearing it with Cuomo. This is not a point for the jury to consider but I’m betting there was communication between Christie and Cuomo (or their surrogates) and Cuomo saved Christie from embarrassment. Who knew they were such pals? Maybe it’s their mutual love of charter schools.
Ok, now some random oddities coming out of Tuesday’s testimony:
Turns out, according to Wildstein, that Shawn Boburg, the writer from The Record whose work on Bridgegate has won awards, got some of his stories–mostly before the traffic jams–from none other than David Wildstein who admitted he often “leaked” stories to Boburg, now with the Washington Post.
Odd, too, is an apparent decision by Judge Shirley Wigenton to allow Wildstein to refuse to reveal the content of conversations with Michael Drewniak, Gov. Christie’s press secretary. The conversations came while Wildstein was blogging as “Wally Edge” and Wildstein claimed the right of a journalist not to discuss conversations with an off-the-record source. The judge said nothing from the bench but stopped Critchley’s line of questioning. There is no federal shield law for journalists.
But, oddest of all:
Wildstein’s friend, Paul Nunziato, the president of the PBA representing Port Authority police, sent this text to Wildstein after Foye finally disputed the “traffic study” cover-up (two months after the press release saying one existed). Nunziato, who clearly doesn’t like Foye, says:
“Do you want me to have one of my guys accidentally shoot him in the head?”
Wildstein insists Nunziato was joking. But consider this: Critchley is contending some of the damning emails sent out by Kelly were only jokes, too. Like, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
If Nunziato, a cop, can “joke” about shooting the executive director of the Port Authority, why can’t Kelly joke about traffic jams in Fort Lee?