One loser at Bridgegate trial: Christie

3 x 2 christie bridgegate file photo
In a prosecution exhibit, Gov. Christie with Bill Baroni (left) and David Wildstein at the 9/11 service at which Wildstein said he and Baroni bragged to the governor about "tremendous" traffic problems in Fort Lee.

NEWARK, N.J. - Whatever verdict jurors return in the George Washington Bridge lane-closure case, one clear loser has emerged from the six-week trial: Gov. Christie.

In the criminal trial of two former aides to the governor, Christie has been depicted as managing New Jersey through threat and intimidation: a boss who threw a water bottle at an employee, made profanity-laced threats to destroy others' careers; and peddled pieces of 9/11 World Trade Center steel for reelection endorsements.

His account of the bridge saga has been disputed, in part, by even one of his closest advisers.

Put another way: The trial offers more than 25 days of court transcripts and hundreds of news articles that rivals could dig up should Republican Christie ever run again for president.

Christie dropped out of the GOP primary in February after placing sixth in New Hampshire, and then quickly endorsed Donald Trump. He is now chairman of Trump's White House transition team.

"Gov. Christie's political stock wasn't rising to begin with, and the testimony in this trial certainly didn't do anything to enhance his position," said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist based in Harrisburg.

With Trump's campaign lagging in the polls and Christie's state approval rating at an all-time low of 21 percent, the governor is beginning to experience life in the political wilderness. The national press, which once trailed the governor everywhere, is largely ignoring the trial.

Betsy Fischer Martin, a former executive producer of NBC's Meet the Press, said she wanted to learn more about the trial a few days ago but had trouble finding coverage from national media.

"I was sort of surprised - just as a news consumer, that there wasn't more out there," said Fischer Martin, now an executive in residence at American University in Washington. "Then I said, well, I guess this is why. He just doesn't have the presidential relevancy that he had a couple of years ago."

The testimony would, however, provide "a briefcase full of opposition research, if Gov. Christie does try to do something down the road," Gerow noted.

For starters, Christie approved a purported traffic study at the George Washington Bridge before it was implemented in September 2013, according to Bridget Anne Kelly, then a deputy chief of staff and now a defendant in the case.

Federal prosecutors also believe Christie knew of the lane closures as they happened. Their star witness, former Port Authority official David Wildstein, told jurors that he and Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee at the agency, had bragged to the governor at a 9/11 memorial service about "tremendous" traffic problems in Fort Lee.

The government alleges that Kelly, Baroni, Wildstein, and others conspired to cause the traffic problems to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for his refusal to endorse Christie's reelection campaign.

Closing arguments in the trial are to continue Monday.

Mike DuHaime, Christie's chief strategist, testified he told Christie on Dec. 11, 2013, that Wildstein had told him Kelly and Bill Stepien, the governor's campaign manager, had prior knowledge of the lane closures.

Two days later, Christie told reporters he was confident that neither his senior staff nor Stepien had prior knowledge.

"And you know [Christie] made a statement that seemed to be, at least, inconsistent with the information you gave him?" Kelly's attorney, Michael Critchley Sr., asked DuHaime.

"That's correct," DuHaime said.

Defense attorneys have suggested it was Christie, not their clients, who covered up the scheme.

Christie collaborated with his New York counterpart, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to try to bury the bridge story before it erupted in January 2014, according to testimony from multiple witnesses.

On Dec. 9, Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, a Cuomo appointee, dispelled the traffic study theory and told New Jersey lawmakers that Wildstein was the culprit behind the lane closures. Two days later, Christie informed his aides he had told Cuomo "to tell Pat Foye to back the f- off," according to Kelly.

The trial also has featured unflattering testimony about Christie's behavior aside from the bridge affair.

Beyond throwing a bottle in displeasure at Kelly, Christie threatened to "f-ing destroy" a Monmouth County freeholder's political career after the official criticized the governor's job performance after Hurricane Sandy, according to testimony from Christopher Stark, a government witness who worked under Kelly in the governor's office. The freeholder, John P. Curley, confirmed the account to the news media.

And in 2010 Christie threatened to fire Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority, if he didn't deliver a message to a firefighters' union official who had been critical of the governor.

"Tell him that the governor of New Jersey says, Go f- yourself," Christie said, according to Baroni.

Given this context, Wildstein, the confessed architect of the bridge scheme, seems less like the rogue operative Christie says he is than the governor's doppelgänger.

Wildstein "created a culture" that caused Port Authority staff to "fear for their jobs if they didn't follow through with his demands," testified Scott Rechler, the agency's former vice chairman and a Cuomo appointee.

Some Christie staffers and allies at the Port Authority saw the multibillion-dollar agency, which runs regional airports, bridges, and the World Trade Center, as a "goody bag" to reward and encourage loyalty to the governor. Gifts to various towns included steel from the World Trade Center destroyed on 9/11, tours of the new one, and flags flown over ground zero on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Even as the bridge trial may leave Christie with more political baggage, the shape of a post-Trump GOP is unclear. Of course, if Trump were to prevail Nov. 8, Christie could be in line for a plum job in D.C.

"If he is able to end his gubernatorial term without any more of a scandal, he gets to move on to another life in law, finance, or the media. In a couple of years, he can reassess whether Bridgegate is still relevant or fatal to another presidential run," said Patrick Murray, a political analyst at Monmouth University. "Barring an indictment or impeachment, you can't count him out entirely down the road."

For now, the governor spends his days hosting town meetings on state education funding, highlighting Hurricane Sandy recovery, and occasionally filling in as a guest host on the Boomer & Carton sports-talk radio show in New York.

A day after the trial began last month, a cohost suggested that Christie was "somewhat weary of hearing about the bridge."

"You're dead on," the governor said.

aseidman@phillynews.com

856-779-3846@AndrewSeidman