Wit­ness tes­ti­fies aides to Christie told about plot

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - STATE NEWS - By David Porter

Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie’s se­nior staffers and ad­vis­ers were told about the po­lit­i­cal re­venge plot in­volv­ing the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge at a time the gov­er­nor has said he was still largely in the dark, the for­mer bridge author­ity of­fi­cial tes­ti­fy­ing in the lane-clos­ing trial said Wednes­day.

David Wild­stein said in early De­cem­ber 2013, about three months af­ter the town of Fort Lee ex­pe­ri­enced traf­fic grid­lock, he told Christie’s press spokesman and chief coun­sel about the scheme, and they told him his ex­pla­na­tion would be passed on to Christie’s chief of staff.

The tim­ing is re­veal­ing be­cause it wasn’t un­til Jan­uary, when emails were re­leased by a leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee in­ves­ti­gat­ing the clo­sures, that Christie said he dis­cov­ered the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the scheme.

In De­cem­ber, he said he be­lieved the of­fi­cial ver­sion pro­moted by Bill Ba­roni, his top ap­pointee at the Port Author­ity of New York and New Jersey, that the grid­lock was caused by a traf­fic study.

Ba­roni and Brid­get Kelly, Christie’s for­mer deputy chief of staff, are charged with clos­ing ac­cess lanes to the bridge to pun­ish the Demo­cratic mayor of Fort Lee for not en­dors­ing Christie.

On Tues­day, Wild­stein tes­ti­fied he told Michael DuHaime, a top po­lit­i­cal ad­viser and close ally of Christie, about the scheme in Novem­ber 2013, and he has said Bill Stepien, Christie’s then-cam­paign man­ager, knew by then, as well.

WASH, RINSE, RE­PEAT

Wild­stein tes­ti­fied Wednes­day that Christie’s staff asked him to pro­duce a list of Port Author­ity em­ploy­ees so the Democrats could be purged.

He said the re­quest came two weeks af­ter he started work at the agency in 2010.

Wild­stein, a high school ac­quain­tance of Christie’s and a for­mer po­lit­i­cal blog­ger, was di­rec­tor of in­ter­state cap­i­tal projects, a po­si­tion cre­ated for him.

Wild­stein tes­ti­fied on cross-ex­am­i­na­tion that Stepien told him to com­pile a list of Port Author­ity em­ploy­ees ap­pointed by pre­vi­ous Demo­cratic ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Asked by Ba­roni’s at­tor­ney if the goal was a “cleans­ing” of Democrats, Wild­stein re­sponded it was.

The Port Author­ity op­er­ates bridges, tun­nels, ports and air­ports in the New York City re­gion. It has been ac­cused of be­ing a haven for gov­er­nors of both states to send pa­tron­age hires.

ON THE TEAM

Wild­stein tes­ti­fied Wednes­day that he ex­pected to be a part of Christie’s “po­lit­i­cal fu­ture” even af­ter he re­signed in the wake of rev­e­la­tions that the re­sult­ing traf­fic jam might have been po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

On di­rect ques­tion­ing by the gov­ern­ment, he said Christie se­nior staffers told him to re­sign in De­cem­ber 2013.

Wild­stein, who tes­ti­fied Tues­day that Christie was told on the third day of the four-day lane clo­sures that there was a traf­fic jam in Fort Lee and that the mayor’s calls weren’t be­ing re­turned, said he thought he would take some time off and then play a dif­fer­ent role for the gov­er­nor.

“I had been told by oth­ers I was still on the gov­er­nor’s team,” he said. “I was told the gov­er­nor was happy I’d stepped up and taken re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Wild­stein said that as­sess­ment came from Stepien and DuHaime.

Wild­stein be­gan co­op­er­at­ing with the gov­ern­ment in early 2014 and pleaded guilty last year.

TRIAL HIGH­LIGHTS

Wild­stein has been on the stand since Fri­day tes­ti­fy­ing against Ba­roni and Kelly, who ac­cuse Wild­stein of con­ceiv­ing and car­ry­ing out the scheme.

Wild­stein tes­ti­fied Tues­day that Ba­roni told the gov­er­nor about the bridge grid­lock while at a 9/11 memo­rial event on the third day. He said Christie seemed happy about it and joked sar­cas­ti­cally that noth­ing po­lit­i­cal was go­ing on.

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

On Mon­day, Wild­stein tes­ti­fied that he in­formed Stepien about the plot shortly be­fore it was put into ac­tion. A Stepien lawyer de­nied it, and Stepien —now work­ing for Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign — hasn’t been charged.

CHRISTIE RE­SPONDS

Christie has had a bus­ierthan-usual pub­lic sched­ule since the trial be­gan, but he waited un­til af­ter Wild­stein dropped his bomb­shell on Tues­day to com­ment on the case.

“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,” Christie said.

The gov­er­nor is on a list of po­ten­tial wit­nesses in the case.

Christie

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