Christie Laughed as Bridge Plot Unfolded, Star Witness SaysBy and
New Jersey governor has denied real-time knowledge of scheme
Wildstein testimony latest political blow to Trump adviser
When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was told of “tremendous” traffic jams near the George Washington Bridge in 2013, he laughed, the self-professed architect of the plot testified.
David Wildstein, a former Christie loyalist at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, told federal court jurors in Newark on Tuesday that he and his boss, Bill Baroni, bragged to the governor about their scheme during a Sept. 11 memorial in 2013 at the World Trade Center site.
The exchange came on the third morning of gridlock intended to punish Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee, for refusing to endorse Christie’s re-election bid. Christie, 54, now an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, has continually denied that he knew about the plot to close two of three local access lanes to the world’s busiest bridge as it took place.
"I had no knowledge prior to or during” the jams, Christie told reporters in Trenton Tuesday. "There’s been no evidence ever put forward that I did.”
According to Wildstein, Baroni told Christie in a mock-serious tone, “Governor, there’s a tremendous amount of traffic in Fort Lee this morning, major traffic jams."
“You’ll be pleased to know that Mayor Sokolich is very frustrated that he can’t get his telephone calls returned,” Wildstein testified, recounting Baroni’s remarks.
Christie responded sarcastically, Wildstein said: “I would imagine that he wouldn’t be getting his phone calls returned.”
Baroni went on to tell the governor that Wildstein, who once wrote a political blog under the pseudonym Wally Edge, was monitoring the situation.
"Well, I’m sure Mr. Edge would never do anything political," Christie responded, according to Wildstein. “Then, he laughed.”
Wildstein, who pleaded guilty last year, testified for a third day at the trial of Baroni and Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly. They’re charged with conspiring to misuse Port Authority property to punish the mayor. The agency oversees airports, tunnels and bridges in the New York area, as well as the World Trade Center.
The lane closings ended on the fifth morning when Executive Director Patrick Foye, an appointee of New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, ordered them reopened because he said the gridlock threatened public safety and violated state and U.S. laws.
Wildstein recounted a meeting with Michael DuHaime, a top political adviser to Christie, on Nov. 11, 2013, four days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Wildstein ordered the lane closings. Wildstein said the story was accurate, and the traffic jams were political retaliation against Sokolich.
“I told Mr. DuHaime that others in the governor’s office were involved, and I had discussed it with Governor Christie,” Wildstein said. “I told him that this was going to go in a very bad direction.”
Wildstein, who offered to resign, said he had directed the plot, that direction came from Kelly, and that Baroni and Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien were involved. DuHaime was upset.
“He told me it was a very bad idea,” Wildstein said. “He said, ‘I wish you had consulted with me, I would have told you not to do it.”’
DuHaime said Christie must have thought Wildstein and Baroni were “joking around” at the Sept. 11 memorial, and the governor “wouldn’t have thought it was funny,” Wildstein said.
Wildstein, who resumes testimony on Wednesday, resigned in early December, 2013.
DuHaime’s attorney Marc Mukasey, of Greenberg Traurig LLP, said in an e-mail: “Mike is a potential witness in this case so specific commentary on Wildstein’s version of the facts is imprudent. I will simply say that Mike has, at all times, told the truth when he has been questioned about this matter and will continue to do so.”
Jurors heard more about what prosecutors say was a cover-up that included falsely blaming the gridlock on a traffic study. Wildstein said he helped prepare Baroni for false testimony on Nov. 25, 2013, before a state legislative committee, in which he admitted to a ”communications breakdown" between the Port Authority and Fort Lee.
Wildstein said it was a lie seen as less damaging to Christie than the truth.
The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).