Christie happy about grid­lock, ex-ally says

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By David Porter

NEWARK, N.J. >> Gov. Chris Christie was told about the epic 2013 traf­fic jam at the Ge­orge Washington Bridge while it was un­der­way, seemed happy about it and joked sar­cas­ti­cally that there was noth­ing po­lit­i­cal go­ing on, a for­mer loy­al­ist tes­ti­fied Tues­day in the scan­dal that helped de­stroy Christie’s White House am­bi­tions.

David Wild­stein, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at the agency that over­sees New York-area bridges and tun­nels, took the stand for the pros­e­cu­tion at the trial of two one­time Christie al­lies ac­cused of en­gi­neer­ing the four days of grid­lock to pun­ish a Demo­cratic mayor for not en­dors­ing Christie. Wild­stein has pleaded guilty.

Wild­stein’s ac­count was the first tes­ti­mony to sug­gest Christie knew about the scheme as it was un­fold­ing.

Christie has re­peat­edly de­nied that and has not been charged with a crime.

On Tues­day, the Repub­li­can gover­nor said: “All kinds of stuff is go­ing on up in a court­room in Newark. I want to be re­ally clear: I have not and will not say any­thing dif­fer­ent than I’ve been say­ing since Jan­uary 2014. No mat­ter what is said up there, I had no knowl­edge prior to or dur­ing these lane re­align­ments.”

Brid­get Kelly, Christie’s for­mer deputy chief of staff, and Bill Ba­roni, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at the Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jersey, are on trial, charged with con­spir­acy, fraud and civil rights de­pri­va­tion in the al­leged po­lit­i­cal re­venge plot.

Wild­stein, a for­mer high­rank­ing of­fi­cial at the Port Au­thor­ity, tes­ti­fied that he was present when Christie was told about the traf­fic in Fort Lee on the third day of the grid­lock dur­ing a Sept. 11 me­mo­rial event in New York.

Wild­stein said Ba­roni told Christie there was “a tremen­dous amount of traf­fic in Fort Lee” that morn­ing and that Mayor Mark Sokolich was “very frus­trated” he wasn’t get­ting his phone calls re­turned. Ba­roni then told the gover­nor that Wild­stein was watch­ing over the sit­u­a­tion, Wild­stein tes­ti­fied.

“Well, I’m sure Mr. Edge would never be in­volved in any­thing po­lit­i­cal,” Christie re­sponded sar­cas­ti­cally, and then laughed, ac­cord­ing to Wild­stein. “Wally Edge” was a pseu­do­nym Wild­stein used while run­ning a New Jersey pol­i­tics web­site.

Pros­e­cu­tors showed the jury sev­eral pho­to­graphs of Ba­roni, Wild­stein and Christie talk­ing that day.

Fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor Lee Cortes asked Wild­stein if he and Ba­roni were brag­ging about the traf­fic jams.

“Yes, very much so. This was our one con­stituent,” Wild­stein replied, re­fer­ring to Christie. “I was pleas­ing my one con­stituent. I was happy that he was happy.”

Christie’s name is on a list of po­ten­tial wit­nesses at the trial.

The clos­ing of two of three ac­cess lanes to the Ge­orge Washington Bridge caused bumper-to-bumper traf­fic in Fort Lee, held up school buses and emer­gency ve­hi­cles, and left driv­ers fum­ing for hours at one of the busiest spans in the world. The bridge con­nects New Jersey to New York City.

For months after­ward, Port Au­thor­ity of­fi­cials in­sisted the lane clos­ings were part of a traf­fic study. But the scan­dal broke wide open with the re­lease of emails and text mes­sages, in­clud­ing one from Kelly to Wild­stein in which she said: “Time for some traf­fic prob­lems in Fort Lee.”

At the time of the traf­fic jams, Christie was run­ning for re-elec­tion, and his cam­paign was try­ing to se­cure en­dorse­ments from lo­cal Demo­cratic of­fi­cials like Sokolich in or­der to win a big land­slide vic­tory and demon­strate the gover­nor’s broad ap­peal as a po­ten­tial can­di­date for pres­i­dent.

In the end, the scan­dal helped sink Christie’s White House cam­paign. Christie once topped the na­tional polls ahead of the 2016 GOP pri­maries but dropped out af­ter New Hamp­shire and said re­cently that the scan­dal prob­a­bly in­flu­enced Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion not to pick him as his run­ning mate.

Trump said last De­cem­ber that Christie “to­tally knew” about the lane clos­ings. The GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has since tapped Christie to lead his tran­si­tion team.

The scan­dal has brought to light some of the hard­ball tac­tics used by the Christie ad­min­is­tra­tion and re­in­forced his rep­u­ta­tion as a bully.

Last week, Wild­stein tes­ti­fied Christie’s of­fice used the rich and pow­er­ful Port Au­thor­ity to re­ward lo­cal of­fi­cials whose en­dorse­ments were sought dur­ing the 2013 re-elec­tion cam­paign.

The New Jersey gover­nor joked and made sar­cas­tic re­marks, a for­mer Port Au­thor­ity of­fi­cial tes­ti­fies.

AMY NEW­MAN — THE RECORD OF BER­GEN COUNTY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

David Wild­stein,right, for­mer Port Au­thor­ity ap­pointee of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, ar­rives at the Martin Luther King Jr. Fed­eral Court­house with his at­tor­ney Alan Ze­gas, left, on Mon­day.. Wild­stein will con­tinue to tes­tify in the Bridge­gate trial.

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