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Report: Christie aides implicated in scandal briefly dated each other

The new bridge scandal report from a lawyer hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) includes a new allegation about two of those most closely linked to the wrongdoing: that they were "personally involved" with each other.

And a lawyer for one of the two has confirmed that the two dated each other.

AP Photo/Office of Gov. Chris Christie, Tim Larsen Bridget Kelly (Tim Larsen/Office of Gov. Chris Christie via AP)

The report says that former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly were engaged in the relationship up until shortly before the plot to close access lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., was hatched.

Stepien was previously an aide in Christie's personal office — as Kelly's predecessor — and was running his reelection campaign at the time.

"... at some point after Stepien’s departure to run the campaign, Kelly and Stepien became personally involved, although, by early August 2013, their personal relationship had cooled, apparently at Stepien’s choice, and they largely stopped speaking," the report says.

Stepien and Kelly were two of four people the report implicates in the plot, which also named former Port Authority appointees Bill Baroni and David Wildstein.

The report speculates that the lack of communication between Stepien and Kelly at the time the lane closures were being planned suggests that they weren't working together.

"Indeed, that fact may have affected how Kelly and Stepien conducted themselves and whether they communicated about the lane realignment," the report says.

Kevin Marino, an attorney representing Stepien, confirmed the two had a "brief dating relationship" that began after Stepien left Christie's governor's office to work for his reelection campaign in April 2013 and ended before Kelly and Wildstein began discussing the lane closures in August 2013.

He said the relationship was irrelevant to what occurred on the bridge and questioned whether investigators had included it in their report merely as a way to draw attention away from Christie.

"Its gratuitous presence dropped into the middle of this report can only be done for purpose of creating an alternative headline," Marino said.

The report concluded that Stepien knew Wildstein had interest in a traffic study that would examine whether toll lanes should be dedicated to Fort Lee commuters, calling it one of Wildstein's many "crazy ideas."

It found there was no evidence he knew of political motivations for the closure. Still, it found Stepien's conduct "concerning" and "warranting further investigation."

Marino said the report shows Christie was in the wrong when he declared Stepien had not been forthright about his involvement and cut ties with his campaign manager. He called on Christie to apologize: "That would be cold comfort, but it would be a first step."

Marino added that the information might have been included in the report  in "an ill considered attempt to exonerate or explain" his client's actions -- since investigators concluded that Stepien and Kelly were not on speaking terms at the time of the traffic jam. But, he said, "at what cost?"

Kelly sent the infamous e-mail to Wildstein — "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" — on Aug. 13.

The report added that, before that point, "Stepien was her 'benefactor,'" and that "Kelly relied heavily on him during this transition."

Updated at 3:18 p.m.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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