Trump hires ex-Christie operative who was fired after Bridgegate


President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters aboard the USS Iowa battleship in Los Angeles on Sept. 15. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has hired the former campaign manager for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie whom the governor dismissed following the George Washington Bridge scandal.

Christie, who became a top Trump adviser after dropping out of the GOP nominating race in February, excommunicated Bill Stepien from his political orbit when the bridge scandal erupted in January 2014.

The governor had tapped Stepien to lead the New Jersey GOP and hired him as a consultant for the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chaired. Since then, Stepien has made something of a comeback in New Jersey politics, advising Assembly Republicans in the 2015 elections and leading a nonprofit think tank that could serve as a platform for Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s potential run for governor next year.


Stepien is expected to serve as the campaign’s national field director, according to the New York Times.

He joins Matt Mowers and Richard Bagger as former Christie aides now working for Trump.

Christie said Friday in Toms River that he didn’t consult with Trump about the decision to hire Stepien.

“I wish Bill the best of luck, and I wish the campaign the best of luck,” he said.

Federal prosecutors did not charge Stepien in the alleged scheme to punish a local mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection campaign by jamming traffic at the bridge in September 2013.

Two other former Christie allies, Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, are set to stand trial next month.

David Wildstein, another former Christie ally, pleaded guilty last year and is a top prosecution witness.


Emails subpoenaed and made public in 2014 by the Democratic-controlled Legislature showed Stepien had communicated with Wildstein in the days after the lane closures. In one email, Stepien referred to the mayor — Fort Lee’s Mark Sokolich — as an “idiot.”

Christie said in 2014 that he had lost “confidence in Bill’s judgment.” Stepien resurfaced in the news more recently when an attorney for Baroni, a former top Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, filed court documents containing explosive allegations.

In December 2013, Christina Renna, a Christie administration staffer, texted a campaign aide during a Christie news conference that the governor had “flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved” in the lane closures, according to the court filing.

When the campaign staffer, Peter Sheridan, replied that the governor was “doing fine,” Renna texted back: “Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or . . . are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad.”

Christie has said he did not lie.

Stepien’s attorney, Kevin Marino, said this month that it was “categorically false and irresponsible” to implicate his client in the bridge case.

“The government investigated the Bridgegate affair for more than 16 months and did not charge Mr. Stepien,” Marino said.

Stepien was the architect of Christie’s two successful gubernatorial campaigns. Stepien devised a strategy focused on winning the endorsements of Democrats across the state — a message, the campaign hoped, that would demonstrate the governor’s broad appeal.

Christie’s landslide reelection in a blue state initially positioned him as a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, but he never fully recovered from the bridge scandal that engulfed his administration a couple of months later.

Christie once had a high opinion of Stepien. The day before the bridge scandal erupted, the governor said, “Bill Stepien is the best Republican operative in the country, and New Jersey Republicans will be fortunate to have him leading our party.”

Staff writer Maddie Hanna contributed to this article.


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