Donald Trump on Friday continued his string of controversial campaign hires, reportedly snatching up a New Jersey political operative who was a central figure in the Bridgegate scandal that later derailed Chris Christie’s presidential campaign.
Bill Stepien will serve as the Trump campaign’s national field director, NBC News reported. He was hired by the campaign’s new CEO, Steve Bannon, according to The Daily Beast.
Sources tell NBC’s @KellyO that the Trump campaign has brought on board Republican operative Bill Stepien as a National Field Director.
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) August 26, 2016
Stepien managed both of Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns and was among his most trusted confidants before Christie fired him in 2014, amid revelations that Stepien knew about the politically vindictive scheme to snarl New York City commuter traffic from Fort Lee, New Jersey, because the Fort Lee mayor, Mark Sokolich, didn’t endorse Christie.
Stepien was not charged in connection to the scandal, but emails that surfaced related to state and federal investigations showed that he was in contact with the key players about the lane closures, and at one point, called Sokolich “an idiot.”
Republicans who worked closely with Stepien have described him as “a world-class political operative,” who can also be “highly abrasive, imperious and quick to act against party members he considered wayward,” according The (Bergen County) Record.
Stepien began his political career while in college as a volunteer for New Jersey Republican Anthony Bucco’s 1997 state Senate campaign, The Record reported. He later served as New Hampshire political director for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004, directing get-out-the-vote operations for the Republican National Committee, and as national field director for John McCain in 2008. He was widely reported to be Christie’s choice to run his presidential campaign before the Bridgegate scandal forced the New Jersey governor to cut ties with him.
Christie said at the time that he had lost confidence in Stepien’s judgment.
“I was disturbed by the tone and behavior and attitude of callous indifference that was displayed in the emails by my former campaign manager, Bill Stepien,” Christie said, according to The Record.
Stepien joins a roster of high-profile Trump hires with mottled political histories, including his new boss. Bannon was at the center of a media firestorm Friday after revelations from his divorce records that his ex-wife had once accused him of assault.