NEWARK, N.J. - A defense attorney thundered at Gov. Chris Christie in closing arguments Monday in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial, calling him and his inner circle "cowards" for not testifying against a former staffer on trial for using gridlock for political retaliation.
In an emotional presentation that lasted more than two hours, Michael Critchley cast client Bridget Kelly as a single mother faced with an administration more concerned with keeping Christie's nascent presidential hopes alive than with exposing the truth when details of the scandal surfaced three years ago.
Kelly testified during the trial that she told Christie about the lane closures a month before they happened, something the Republican governor has adamantly denied. Critchley reminded jurors Monday that the government didn't call Christie to say that under oath.
Cupping his hands as if holding a megaphone, Critchley nearly yelled, "Chris Christie, where are you?"
Kelly was "the odd person out," he said. "The inner circle, they know what the code is: 'Chris Christie knows nothing.' Bridget Kelly has a different version, and that makes her dangerous. They want that mother of four to take the fall for them. Cowards. Cowards."
Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, were indicted in 2015 on charges they schemed to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie by closing access lanes to the nation's busiest bridge, which connects Fort Lee and Manhattan.
The scandal unfolded at a time when Christie was on the brink of a runaway re-election victory and was considered a top Republican presidential contender. He wasn't charged, but the story dogged him through a failed presidential bid.
Kelly and Baroni testified earlier in the trial that they believed former Port Authority official David Wildstein when he told them the realignment of access lanes to the bridge on four days in September 2013 was part of a traffic study. Massive gridlock ensued, and Mayor Mark Sokolich's pleas went unanswered for four days — on orders from Wildstein, the defendants testified.
Critchley on Monday called Wildstein, a former political blogger and high school classmate of Christie's who pleaded guilty last year, "the Bernie Madoff of New Jersey politics." Wildstein testified that both Kelly and Baroni were fully aware of the scheme to punish Sokolich.
The government was to offer its rebuttal summation Monday afternoon before jurors begin deliberations.
In his closing argument Friday, Baroni's attorney also assailed Wildstein, who worked for Baroni at the Port Authority, as Christie's hatchet man at the agency and a liar whose testimony shouldn't be trusted.
Kelly wrote the infamous "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" email the month before the lane closures. She testified she deleted that email and others because she was scared people in Christie's administration who knew of the lane closures weren't being forthcoming.