NEWARK, N.J. - Gov. Christie was told in August 2013 that a planned traffic study at the George Washington Bridge tolls could create "tremendous traffic problems" for commuters but approved it anyway, according to testimony Friday from a former aide charged in the case.
Taking the stand in her own defense, Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, contradicted Christie's assertion that neither he nor his staff had prior knowledge of the September 2013 lane closures. She also depicted the governor as an intimidating boss who instilled fear in her, once even throwing a water bottle at her while they were in Seaside Heights in the aftermath of a boardwalk fire.
Kelly, the governor's former deputy chief of staff, was tearful at times, such as when she told the jury in federal court the names of her four children.
In a conversation Aug. 12, Kelly testified, she told Christie that Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official David Wildstein had informed her that the study would result in "tremendous traffic problems" in Fort Lee, Bergen County.
Christie "said, 'All right.' He didn't really react. He said, that's fine. He said, 'How is the relationship with Mayor [Mark] Sokolich' " of Fort Lee, Kelly testified. "And I didn't know. I really didn't know."
In a statement issued Friday evening, Christie's spokesman responded: "As the governor has said since Jan. 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 testified that Wildstein had not told her that the traffic study was intended to punish Sokolich, a Democrat, for his refusal to endorse Christie's reelection campaign, as prosecutors allege and as Wildstein testified.
Kelly informed Christie about the study, she testified, because Wildstein, whom she understood to be a Christie confidant, had asked her to. Wildstein told her in June that he was working with Port Authority engineers and the police on the study, Kelly testified.
Wildstein told Kelly he had also alerted Bill Stepien, Christie's campaign manager, about the idea, Kelly told jurors.
She was fearful of what might happen if she didn't inform the governor and his chief of staff, saying she thought she might be blamed for the incident, she said.
Earlier that summer, for example, Christie's chief of staff, Kevin O'Dowd, had instructed her to cancel meetings she had spent 10 days scheduling with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, according to Kelly.
Christie "was walking through [the office]; he didn't even say hello," Kelly told jurors. "He said, 'Did you cancel the meetings?' "
"Yes, governor," she replied.
Asked by her attorney what Christie said next, Kelly paused. Crying, she said, "He said no one's entitled to a f-ing meeting."
On another occasion, Kelly said, she got in trouble after an intern in her office brought in a Krispy Kreme doughnut box the intern labeled "Christie Creme" with a display that read, "Serving New Jersey Since 2010" and "Expanding Nationwide in 2016!"
A photo of the doughnut box surfaced on social media and later in the Newark Star-Ledger.
The governor, O'Dowd, chief counsel Charles McKenna, and press secretary Michael Drewniak each visited Kelly, she testified, "telling me in no uncertain terms how inappropriate this was and how bad this was for the governor - and how angry they were at me for allowing this to happen."
At the beginning of her three hours of testimony, Kelly recounted for jurors how she took a job in Trenton shortly after Christie became governor in 2010.
Her salary was $83,000, up from the $50,000 she made working for an assemblyman.
Ahead of an impending divorce, "I knew I needed to make a little bit more money," Kelly told jurors.
Recounting her Aug. 12 conversation with Christie about the traffic study, Kelly said she also related to him that Wildstein had hoped the governor could later hold an event touting the results of the study.
Wildstein believed a lane realignment on the upper toll plaza of the bridge would improve traffic flow, Kelly said.
Wildstein wanted "the governor to be with [Democratic New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo in an election year in the fall to show bipartisan support and to really thank the governor for doing this study," Kelly testified.
"The governor said, 'That's typical Wally,' " a reference to Wildstein's former pseudonym as a political blogger, Wally Edge. Walter Edge was an early 20th century New Jersey governor.
Christie told Kelly to run the traffic study idea by O'Dowd, according to the testimony, and said they should get lunch the next day if possible.
Kelly informed O'Dowd the next day, and he said the study was fine by him as long as it was OK with the governor, she told jurors.
Christie also raised the lane closures with Kelly while they were underway, she testified, after he returned to Trenton from a 9/11 memorial service in Manhattan.
On his way to his office, he passed by Kelly and told her he had spoken with Wildstein at the service about the traffic study - as Wildstein has testified. Christie, standing with longtime aide Michele Brown, "said the mayor had reached out to the Port Authority, but Wildstein had told the governor he was handling it."
Speaking about the bridge saga for the first time since she was indicted in May 2015, Kelly began to provide context for emails and text messages the government says corroborate Wildstein's testimony that she was part of a criminal conspiracy.
The day after Kelly said she first told Christie about the traffic study, she emailed Wildstein: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," to which Wildstein responded, "Got it."
That email was made public in January 2014 and precipitated a political firestorm that engulfed Christie at a time he was laying the groundwork for a presidential run. After months of news reports and legislative hearings about the lane closures, the email seemed to connect the governor's office to a political retribution plot.
Why did she send the email?
"I was stressed out about thinking about having lunch with the governor" that day, Kelly said.
Kelly wanted to inform Wildstein that she had told the governor about the study, as Wildstein had asked her to do, she testified.
"I was just trying to check things off my list of things I needed to get done," she said.
"At that time - and I know that's hard to believe - this was something David told me the Port Authority was doing. He told me it was something the Port Authority believed was a public policy issue, was a public safety issue," Kelly testified. "I chose words parroting words he had used to me."
"Poor choice of words?" asked her attorney, Michael Critchley Sr.
"Very," she said.