Wit­ness: Plan was to ‘in­su­late’ Christie in bridge scan­dal

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

The man at the heart of the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge laneclos­ing case con­cluded eight days of tes­ti­mony Wed­nes­day by re­it­er­at­ing that a goal in the af­ter­math of the scan­dal was to in­su­late New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie’s of­fice from blame.

David Wild­stein, the one per­son to plead guilty in the al­leged po­lit­i­cal re­tal­i­a­tion plot by Christie loy­al­ists against the mayor of the town that abuts the bridge, struck a con­trite pose as he de­scribed first telling a bridge au­thor­ity po­lice of­fi­cial not to lie about the plot then re­vers­ing field.

“I was in a bad place. I was feel­ing sorry for my­self,” Wild­stein said dur­ing ques­tion­ing by de­fense lawyers. The of­fi­cial, Paul Nun­zi­ato, said in De­cem­ber 2013 the lane clo­sures near the bridge, which caused mas­sive grid­lock for four days in the town of Fort Lee, were part of a traf­fic study sug­gested by po­lice.

The over­rid­ing goal in the months fol­low­ing the Septem­ber 2013 clo­sures, Wild­stein said, was to keep Christie’s of­fice out of any public dis­cus­sions.

That goal, he said, guided the prepa­ra­tion for tes­ti­mony in Novem­ber 2013 to a New Jer­sey leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee by Bill Ba­roni, one of two de­fen­dants Wild­stein tes­ti­fied against in the cur­rent trial. Ba­roni told that com­mit­tee the grid­lock was due to a traf­fic study that had been poorly com­mu­ni­cated to lo­cal of­fi­cials and mo­torists.

Ty­ing Christie or his staffers to the bur­geon­ing scan­dal “was never go­ing to hap­pen,” Wild­stein told ju­rors Wed­nes­day. “There would be no men­tion of the gov­er­nor’s of­fice, the gov­er­nor’s of­fice would be in­su­lated.”

Ba­roni was Christie’s top ap­pointee to the Port Au­thor­ity of New York and New Jer­sey, which op­er­ates the bridge. His co-de­fen­dant, Brid­get Kelly, was Christie’s deputy chief of staff and headed an of­fice re­spon­si­ble for out­reach to county and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials.

Tes­ti­mony by Wild­stein and oth­ers has por­trayed Kelly’s of­fice as keep­ing a list of Demo­cratic may­ors tar­geted for en­dors­ing the re-elec­tion of Christie, a Repub­li­can, in 2013. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was one of those may­ors, and the govern­ment con­tends Kelly and Ba­roni schemed with Wild­stein in Au­gust 2013 to cre­ate grid­lock in Fort Lee af­ter Sokolich de­clined to en­dorse Christie.

Kelly and Ba­roni face charges in­clud­ing con­spir­acy, fraud and de­pri­va­tion of civil rights. The most se­ri­ous charge, wire fraud con­spir­acy, car­ries a 20year max­i­mum prison sen­tence.

They con­tend the scheme was con­ceived and ex­e­cuted by Wild­stein, a ca­reer po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive and blog­ger their at­tor­neys have char­ac­ter­ized as Christie’s hatchet man at the Port Au­thor­ity, a pow­er­ful bis­tate agency that runs bridges, tun­nels, ports, air­ports and the World Trade Cen­ter.

Christie wasn’t charged and has de­nied any in­volve­ment in the scheme or its cover-up. Wild­stein tes­ti­fied sev­eral mem­bers in the gov­er­nor’s in­ner cir­cle knew about the plot be­fore­hand or soon af­ter, and that Christie him­self was told about the traf­fic jams on Sept. 11, 2013, on the third day of the lane clo­sures.

Christie re­it­er­ated last week he “had no knowl­edge prior to or dur­ing these lane re­align­ments.”

Among Wild­stein’s claims dur­ing his tes­ti­mony Tues­day was that Christie and Demo­cratic New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo dis­cussed us­ing a bo­gus re­port to defuse ques­tions sur­round­ing the traf­fic scan­dal as it un­folded.

Cuomo on Wed­nes­day called the al­le­ga­tion “not ac­cu­rate” and “gossip” and that Wild­stein had no first­hand ev­i­dence to back up his claim.

CHRIS PEDOTA — THE RECORD VIA AP, FILE

David Wild­stein ar­rives at the fed­eral court­house, in Ne­wark, N.J. Wild­stein tes­ti­fied that New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo dis­cussed re­leas­ing a false re­port to tamp down ques­tions over the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Bridge lane-clo­sure scan­dal.

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