The aide to Gov. Chris Christie at the center of a massive scandal now threatening Christie’s political future stepped out of the shadows today as her attorney fought to keep her emails and phone records out of reach of the committee investigating last September’s controversial closures of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge.
Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Christie’s deputy chief of staff, sat quietly in a Trenton courtroom and her attorney, Michael Critchley, seemed to suggest the former aide wanted immunity so she could testify about what happened at the bridge and whether it was a move to punish a local politician who wouldn’t back Christie.
During the lengthy hearing, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobsen said to Critchley, “You act as if they could very easily afford immunity and that would take care of everything.”
Critchley snapped his fingers and said, “Like that, like that.” He added, “They don’t want to give us immunity, not that they can’t."
Critchley suggested that a federal probe being carried out by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman may be preventing Kelly getting immunity.
"I don’t know what happened when Mr. Schar met with Mr. Fishman. He probably said, ‘Do what you want to do, but don’t interfere with our investigation and one way to interfere with our investigation would be to grant immunity,’” Critchley told the judge.
Reid Schar is the attorney representing the state investigative panel that has subpoenaed Kelly's emails.
Kelly and Christie's former campaign manager Bill Stepien, who were both fired by Christie when the scandal broke, are citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to not comply with the subpoena. Stepien did not appear in court, but his attorney Kevin Marino appeared on his behalf.
Schar told the judge, "This is not, has not been, and the subpoenas are not fishing expeditions of any sort.”
Kelly and Stepien have “communications responsive and relevant to this topic,” Schar argued.
"Here we have communications specific to the lane closures by both of the defendants in this case," he said. "From our perspective that's sufficient to meet that reasonable particularity standard."
David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey which operates the bridges and tunnels connecting the two states, has already handed over documents which include emails and text messages. Kelly and Stepien are on some of those emails, including an infamous email that Kelly allegedly wrote to Wildstein saying, “It’s time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
Kelly, wearing a black cardigan and white pearls, sat watching the three attorneys, at times stopping to take notes.
Her lawyer later said, "Because her life has been affected dramatically and today the court was going to discuss an issue of significance that affected her life and she wanted to be here ... she's not someone who is in anyway living the life of a hermit."
Schar told the court that from the “scope” of emails they do have, Kelly and others “routinely” went off of government email to private email accounts to discuss the lanes closure.
The judge asked whether it was an “inference” whether there were more documentation and Schar replied no.
“It’s not an inference, it’s a knowledge at this point considering the amount of emails,” Schar said.
“We think we have a right to everything,” the lawyer added.
Jacobsen also asked Schar why Kelly and Stepien don’t have reasonable cause to fear criminal prosecution since the U.S. Attorney is also investigating the lane closures. The judge also questioned whether the subpoena was overly broad.
Marino, Stepien's lawyer, insisted that handing over the documents would incriminate his client.
He also said that the investigation was politically motivated, echoing what Christie allies have said of the panel dominated by Democrats. Marino said his role was to bring this “out of the realm of politics and into the realm of law where it belongs.”
Later, Marino said, "I feel very strongly that Bill Stepien is an innocent man. An innocent man who is being ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.... [He's] someone who has every much the same right to express his Fifth Amendment privilege as someone who is in fact guilty of a crime."
It’s not clear when the judge will rule if the documents do need to be turned over.
ABC News' Aaron Katersky and Josh Margolin contributed to this report