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Christie Appointee Baroni Faces Scrutiny on Panel Testimony

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Feb. 14 (Bloomberg) -- New Jersey lawmakers investigating intentional gridlock at the George Washington Bridge will compel testimony from Bill Baroni, an appointee of Governor Chris Christie, who previously told them the cause was a traffic study.

“Mr. Baroni was the person who delivered the quote, story, unquote to the assembly transportation committee about the so-called traffic study,” Democratic Senator Loretta Weinberg, co-chairwoman of a special legislative investigatory panel, said today by telephone. “We have a particular interest in talking to him.”

Weinberg said the 12-member panel, with Democratic and Republican members from the New Jersey Senate and Assembly, would prepare a subpoena for Baroni’s testimony, though she wasn’t certain when it would be served. Three other subpoenas issued by lawmakers have sought e-mails, texts and other information from him.

At a Nov. 25 legislative hearing, Baroni appeared with a 4-foot-by-3-foot aerial photograph of access lanes, marking traffic flow with a red permanent marker to describe the supposed study.

A message left at the Roseland, New Jersey, office of his lawyer, Michael Himmel, wasn’t immediately returned.

Official’s Explanation

Baroni, 42, a former Republican state senator whom Christie made his top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey told lawmakers in Trenton in November that lanes were closed for an evaluation of traffic flow in Fort Lee. The authority, which operates the bridge, has yet to produce such a study, and e-mails obtained in January show the four days of tie-ups in September were arranged a month earlier by a Christie deputy chief of staff and a Port Authority executive.

Christie, a 51-year-old Republican who started his second term last month, has said he knew nothing about the closings as they were happening. Baroni resigned as deputy executive director in December.

Mark Sokolich, the Fort Lee mayor, wasn’t among Democrats who crossed party lines to endorse Christie for re-election, and in e-mails to Baroni he asked whether the gridlock was punishment.

Arched Eyebrow

Baroni in November was summoned before the Assembly transportation panel, which examined the jams prior to the Jan. 27 formation of the Select Committee on Investigation that is now leading the probe. He answered questions for 75 minutes, to the dissatisfaction of the panel’s chairman, Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

“You are a masterful dancer and we appreciate your dancing skills,” Wisniewski, from Sayreville, told Baroni. “We’d like to get some real answers about what’s happening at the Port Authority and you’re very good at dodging those questions and turning the tables.”

To date, the joint committee has issued 38 subpoenas in its investigation. Five served Feb. 12 asked the governor’s office, the Christie campaign, aide Regina Egea, Port Authority lawyer Phil Kwon and Baroni for documents and edits made to his November testimony.

Wisniewski, who now is co-chairman of the joint panel with Weinberg, said in a telephone interview that plans for a Baroni appearance have yet to gel. He said committee members don’t want to recall witnesses if documents produced later raise additional questions.

“We’re going to wait until we get a lot of documents in before we asking for people to come in and testify,” he said. He also that Baroni’s statements are an obvious point of interest.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of doubt that Bill Baroni was less than candid in his Assembly testimony,” Wisniewski said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Elise Young in Trenton at eyoung30@bloomberg.net; Terrence Dopp in Trenton at tdopp@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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