Christie ‘Enforcer’ Ignored Missing-Child Report Amid Jamsby
Defense lawyers seek to show David Wildstein changed details
Wildstein said Christie knew of gridlock as it took place
The self-professed architect of the George Washington Bridge lane closings in 2013 testified that he ignored reports of a missing child and a cardiac arrest during the traffic jams he helped create to punish a New Jersey mayor for not supporting Governor Chris Christie’s re-election.
David Wildstein, testifying Thursday at the trial of two Christie allies accused of conspiring to snarl traffic, said he got an e-mail relating concerns from a borough official in Fort Lee, New Jersey, saying that the gridlock impeded the search for a missing 4-year-old and the response to the cardiac arrest. A defense lawyer asked Wildstein what he thought about the e-mail, sent when the traffic jams began on the first day of school in September 2013.
“I unfortunately didn’t think about it as seriously as I ought to have,” Wildstein told federal court jurors on Thursday in Newark. “I was focused on the politics of this and not the other issues.” The child was eventually found; a 91-year-old woman died of a heart attack during the lane closings though it’s not clear if she was the person referenced in the e-mail.
Wildstein was questioned by an attorney for Bill Baroni, his former boss at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, who is on trial with Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff. The lawyer, Michael Baldassare, sought to show that Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to his role in the plot, callously orchestrated the plot to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, and changed his account over more than 20 debriefings to please prosecutors.
Wildstein provided additional details about the political machinations of the Christie administration, saying the governor directed a $1.5 million grant from the Port Authority to help him court a mayoral hopeful in Jersey City. He had previously testified that Christie used the Port Authority as a "goody bag" of grants, equipment and favors in exchange for political support.
The Port Authority awarded the $1.5 million grant in early 2013 to the Urban League of Hudson County Inc. At the time, Democrat Steven Fulop sought the mayor’s seat, and state Senator Sandra B. Cunningham was also considering a run. Wildstein testified that the grant -- which Baldassare suggested was on Cunningham’s "wish list" to stay out of the race -- was awarded because Fulop asked Christie to help keep her from running.
Cunningham decided not to run, and Fulop won the election in May 2013, but later chose not to endorse Christie’s re-election.
Baldassare also asked Wildstein about discrepancies in his account of how Baroni and Wildstein described the traffic to Christie during a Sept. 11 memorial service that year. The lawyer said Wildstein had claimed in earlier debriefings with prosecutors that he had bragged to Christie at the World Trade Center. In testimony this week, Wildstein said Baroni actually did the bragging.
“Isn’t it correct that during multiple meetings with the government you made no mention at all of Mr. Baroni in connection with that 9/11 meeting?,” Baldassare asked Wildstein in his second day of cross-examination.
“No sir, I don’t recall that,” Wildstein said.
Baldassare jousted repeatedly with Wildstein about the Sept. 11 conversation and many other aspects of his testimony. Wildstein frequently said he didn’t recall what he said, asked Baldassare to repeat his question, or disagreed with the premise of a question.
The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).