When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, was told of politically motivated lane closings near the George Washington Bridge in 2013, he responded with a laugh, the self-professed architect of the plot testified.
David Wildstein, a former Christie ally 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 lane closings near the world’s busiest bridge as they 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.”
Jurors were shown nine photographs of Christie, Wildstein and Baroni speaking privately at the World Trade Center site that morning. They were laughing and appeared jocular.
“We were all very relaxed,” Wildstein said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes asked whether Baroni and Wildstein were bragging, and Wildstein said that they were.
“This was our one constituent,” Wildstein said. “I was pleasing my one constituent. I was proud of it. I was happy that he was happy.”
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, on charges they conspired to misuse Port Authority property to punish the mayor. The agency oversees major transportation infrastructure and hubs in the New York area.
Defense lawyers say Wildstein is a serial liar and manipulator who served as Christie’s enforcer at the Port Authority and seeks to frame Kelly and Baroni for his actions.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · David Voreacos, David Kocieniewski