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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

New Trump campaign chief was shunned by Christie amid Bridgegate scandal

Bill Stepien in October 2018. Stepien has been

Bill Stepien in October 2018. Stepien has been named President Donald Trump's new campaign manager. Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik

Dubious doings of the past never seem to mar the present for those in President Donald Trump's insular world. Now Bill Stepien steps in to lead the wobbly Trump campaign. Stepien, once a political aide to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, memorably took a hit in that administration's Bridgegate scandal.

Stepien replaces Brad Parscale, the digital professional who took a more recent hit for the dud of a Trump rally last month in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Most recently, Parscale drew attention as a 35%-owner of CloudCommerce Inc. — a tech firm that got a $780,680 loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

One has to keep moving in this business, after all.

The Stepien-Parscale transition plays out while longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone keeps seeking attention after his conviction by a jury and commutation by the president. Over the weekend, Stone asserted he had not uttered a racial slur while on a radio show despite what was audible.

Stone has a history of this sort of thing.

Stepien also has had his ups and downs. On Jan. 7, 2014, Christie nominated him to be chairman of the New Jersey GOP, calling him "the best Republican operative in the country." Two days later, Christie asked him to withdraw his name, saying he'd lost confidence in him.

It turned out that earlier, while working on Christie's reelection campaign, Stepien was romantically involved with Bridget Kelly, his replacement as Christie's deputy chief of staff.

Kelly was a central player in the 2013 lane closures that deliberately jammed traffic heading to the George Washington Bridge, to hurt a perceived political foe in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Her conviction and that of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni were voided in May by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During a trial in 2016, federal prosecution witness David Wildstein testified that Stepien was aware of the lane closures as they were happening. Stepien was never charged.

This is the cultural milieu of the people now in the White House.

There is always rich irony in the Christie connection. Four years ago, while Christie was competing against him in the presidential primaries, Trump said of the bridge scandal: "He knew about it. He totally knew about it," which Christie always denied.

Then Christie withdrew from the race and eagerly cuddled up to the winning candidate who allegedly lied about him. But the love was short-lived. Christie was pushed out as head of the president-elect's transition planning team.

In a book published last year, the ex-governor accused the president's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner of orchestrating a political “hit job” against him. While U.S. attorney, Christie prosecuted Jared's father, Charles Kushner, on crimes stemming from an ugly family feud.

Last month, Christie said Trump was on track to lose this election, "if he doesn't change course both in terms of the substance of what he's discussing and the way that he approaches the American people."

Federal criminal investigations have marked a constant theme in the Trump campaign world.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was released from prison and given home confinement in May because of the coronavirus pandemic. He is serving a 7½-year sentence in a case related to his work for a Ukrainian politician.

Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen also is back in the news. He's serving a 3-year sentence, in part for violating election laws on Trump's behalf. Court papers made public this week say Cohen's memoir will describe racist comments made by Trump about his predecessor Barack Obama and the late South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Maybe all this is why prosecution is so much on Trump's mind. Answering an unrelated question in a TV interview last week, he made this unfounded statement: "I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won, I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation."

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