Star witness testimony: Gov. Christie knew of bridge lane closures

UPDATE – 10/6, 9:30 a.m. EST: Former Port Authority director David Wildstein testified Tuesday that the New Jersey governor’s office conspired with a political appointee of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to publicize a false “traffic study” report that would explain George Washington Bridge lane closures in September 2013.

Mr. Wildstein, appointed to the agency by Gov. Chris Christie in 2010, was in his seventh day of sworn testimony in a New Jersey federal court for the trial of two former Christie associates charged with fraud and conspiracy in connection with “Bridgegate”.

Wildstein also told the court that Gov. Cuomo had told the Authority’s executive director to “stand down” from blaming Christie for the lane closures until the New Jersey governor won reelection in November 2013.

Wildstein, who has confessed to masterminding the plan intended to cause gridlock traffic in Fort Lee, N.J., to retaliate against its mayor for refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection, is the prosecution’s star witness.

 

Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive David Wildstein testified in federal court Tuesday that Governor Chris Christie knew of the plan to deliberately shut down lanes on the George Washington Bridge in 2013, marking the first time such specific evidence has been shown by the prosecution.

Mr. Wildstein previously plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy for his role in masterminding the plot and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in the case popularly known as “Bridgegate”.

Wildstein said that he and fellow Port Authority executive Bill Baroni informed Gov. Christie of traffic problems on the Bridge, which connects Fort Lee, N.J., and Manhattan, prior to a 9/11 12th anniversary memorial service just outside the Freedom Tower construction site.

“Mr. Baroni said [in a sarcastic voice], ‘Governor, I have to tell you, there’s a tremendous amount of traffic in Fort Lee this morning,'” he testified.

Baroni also told Christie that Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was “frustrated” that his calls to Port Authority about the problem were not being returned.

“Governor Christie responded saying, ‘I would image that he wouldn’t be getting his phone calls returned,'” Wildstein continued.

Since Friday, Wildstein has been telling the court in Newark, N.J., about how the governor’s office worked with the Port Authority to cut-off or reprimand local politicians who did not endorse Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign.

Christie also knew that Mayor Sokolich was being shunned by aides because the governor’s administration had sought his endorsement for almost three years, enticing him with gifts and doing political favors, according to Wildstein.

Port Authority Chairman David Samson, a Christie supporter, was also aware of the lane closures, cloaked as a “traffic study”, which caused gridlock traffic for two more days after the Sept. 11, 2013, meeting.

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Christie talking with Baroni (left) and Wildstein in September 2013 (photo by Mike Dombrowski via Daily News)

Samson later joined the conversation with the governor, Wildstein and Baroni. Wildstein said Samson told Christie that Democratic Jersey City, N.J., Mayor Steven Fulop wanted to reschedule a previously cancelled meeting with Port Authority officials and other state government agencies.

Christie responded, “‘No, no meetings with Mayor Fulop.'”  Fulop had also refused to formally endorse the governor’s reelection.

At a press conference in January 2014, Christie denied any prior knowledge of the retaliation plan against Mayor Sokolich, which also involved the governor’s then-chief of staff, Bridget Kelly.

In an unrelated press conference on Tuesday in Trenton, N.J., Christie again denied the allegations and refuted Wildstein’s testimony.

“I had no knowledge prior to, or during, these lane realignments,” he said. “I had no role in authorizing it. I had no knowledge of it.”

While the New Jersey governor has not been named in the case, both Baroni and Kelly are facing fraud and conspiracy charges.

 

[Reuters] [New York Times] [Photo courtesy 3dprint.com]