Ex-Christie Adviser with Bridge-gate Links Hired by GOP Firm

Tuesday, 18 Mar 2014 07:44 AM

By Melanie Batley

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A former aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who has emerged as a leading figure in the bridge-gate controversy was hired by a top Republican consulting firm late last month.

Bill Stepien, the campaign manager for both of Christie's gubernatorial campaigns, has joined FLS Connect, to help with sales and strategy for its voter contact products, according to Politico.

"FLS Connect is excited to have Bill Stepien join our team," Sheila Berkley, the company's president, said in a statement. "His extensive national experience and knowledge will be an asset to our clients and our company."

Stepien's new job gives him another chance to take a major role in campaigns going into the 2014 midterm elections and the 2016 presidential election, despite being dropped by Christie in January as the bridge-gate controversy escalated.

The announcement comes as emails emerged Monday from the legislative committee leading a probe into the scandal that Stepien was kept informed of complaints over the traffic problems near the George Washington Bridge as it unfolded.

One email shows that Stepien was told about a letter of complaint by Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich on the fourth full day of closures in September. Others show that Stepien regularly communicated about the closures with other aides, including Bridget Anne Kelly, former deputy chief of staff.

Stepien and Kelly have refused to turn over documents subpoenaed by the committee, claiming it violates their right against self-incrimination. Stepien's lawyer insists he has done nothing wrong.

Christie cut ties with Stepien in January after it was reported that Stepien criticized Sokolich in an email to another aide saying, "It's fine. The mayor is an idiot, though. [Win] some, lose some."

At Christie's lengthy January news conference, he expressed disappointment in Stepien, according to Politico, even though days before the governor had called him "the best Republican operative in the country."

"Reading that made me lose my confidence in Bill's judgment, and you cannot have someone at the top of your political operation that you do not have confidence in," Christie said.

Stepien had been in line to help run the New Jersey Republican Party and the Republican Governors Association, and would have been a likely prospect to run a possible 2016 Christie presidential bid, according to Politico.

FLS has deep ties to the GOP establishment. In 2012, the firm was paid $68 million by Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, and worked for a number of congressional candidates and party organizations, including the Republican National Committee and the New Jersey Republican State Committee, according to Politico. The company also worked on Christie's re-election campaign.

A source familiar with Stepien's new role told Politico he is not working on any projects related to the governor.

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