Christie accused of using agency to gain support
NEWARK, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s office in New Jersey used the bistate agency that runs the NewYork area’s bridges, tunnels, ports and airports as a clearinghouse for political favors aimed at gaining endorsements from local Democratic politicians, a witness testified Friday in the fraud trial of two former Christie allies.
Among those directly involved in the effort or aware of it were Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni, who are accused of creating traffic gridlock at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 to punish a mayor for not endorsing Christie, according to David Wildstein.
Wildstein said Christie and his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, were among those who discussed the strategy at a meeting about Christie’s 2013 reelection.
Wildstein has pleaded guilty in the scheme to tie up traffic at the bridge, which connects Fort Lee, N.J., with New York City.
Baroni was Wildstein’s boss at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates bridges, airports and facilities including the World Trade Center. Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff. They are accused of reducing access lanes to the bridge and face fraud, conspiracy and civil rights charges. They have pleaded not guilty.
Christie has denied knowing about the bridge scheme until well after it was carried out. He hasn’t been charged. Prosecutors have said Wildstein will testify he bragged to Christie about the lane closures on the third day of the four-day shutdown.
The favors doled out included grants, emergency response equipment, private tours of the World Trade Center redevelopment site and pieces of steel salvaged from the destroyed twin towers, Wildstein said.
While the Port Authority would provide the benefits, Wildstein testified, the gov- ernor’s office would control the process and take most of the credit in its quest to curry favor with politicians.
During testimony earlier Friday, former Christie campaign staffer Matt Mowers said Christie wrote a letter to the Port Authority supporting the purchase of commuter shuttle buses Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich had requested. Sokolich eventually declined to endorse Christie in 2013 and was the target of the lane-closing scheme, prosecutors say. David Wildstein has testified on the 2013 George Washington Bridge scandal.