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Ex-Top Aide To Chris Christie Testifies In 'Bridgegate' Trial

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Today was not a good day for Chris Christie. A former top aide to the New Jersey governor testified in a trial over what's known as Bridgegate. And she said that Christie approved the plan to close lanes on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, an act that created traffic jams for hours supposedly to punish a mayor who hadn't endorsed Christie for re-election. And the aide said Christie OKed this weeks in advance. That contradicts what Christie has said all along. Andrea Bernstein from member station WNYC was in the courtroom today. And, Andrea, first tell us about this aide Bridget Kelly and why her testimony is so important.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So Bridget Kelly was Governor Christie's deputy chief of staff in 2013, and what she's best known for is writing the email, "Time For Some Traffic Problems In Fort Lee." That led to a federal investigation. And now she's charged with felony conspiracy fraud and civil rights charges for causing the traffic jams.

Today on the witness stand is the first time that she's ever spoken up. And she really told a different story, not as a calculating conspirator but as a single Catholic mother of four struggling so hard to pay her bills. She didn't take the New Jersey Turnpike because the tolls were too high. And she said she was somehow caught up in this web spun by powerful men, including Governor Christie. At one point, she described Christie getting so angry at her that he threw a water bottle at her while he was cursing. She sobbed as she said this.

SIEGEL: But how did she explain sending that email that said time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee, Fort Lee being the town on the Jersey side of the GW Bridge.

BERNSTEIN: She said she'd been told by David Wildstein, who's pleaded guilty and is cooperating, that he wanted to do a study to ease commute times and that was going to cause some traffic. She said that Wildstein, who worked for an independent agency that runs the bridge, said give a heads up to the governor. So she says she did that, that the governor said it was fine, asked about their relationship with the mayor of Fort Lee, and then, she says, that's when she sent that email without really thinking about the language. She looked right at the jury, and she said, I'm pretty sure if I'd said time for a traffic study in Fort Lee, we wouldn't all know each other now.

SIEGEL: Well, besides what Kelly says, is there any evidence that Christie, who we should say is Donald Trump's presidential transition chairman, knew anything more about those lane closures as they were actually happening?

BERNSTEIN: So Christie had denied and - has denied he knew about the closures while they were going on. But Kelly is now the third witness who's testified under oath that Christie discussed the lane closures during a memorial service for the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. That service took place on the third day of the traffic jams.

SIEGEL: Now, both the prosecution and the defense lawyers have said that Christie knew about this. If what she testified to today is true, what does it mean for Chris Christie?

BERNSTEIN: So we've got two stories, the Christie version that this whole thing was organized by rogue employees, and now the Bridget Kelly version that everyone was looped in. She didn't have the power. They knew about the retaliatory scheme, and she did not. If her version is true, it would mean that from the governor on down not only was there knowledge of this, but that there was widespread cooperation in covering it up and in blaming Bridget Kelly.

SIEGEL: OK, that's Andrea Bernstein of WNYC. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.