Testimony: Christie pals OK'd gridlock, campaign chief knew

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27 September, 2016

A former Port Authority of NY and New Jersey official who pleaded guilty in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case is to return to the witness stand in the federal fraud trial of two former allies of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

That witness, David Wildstein, a former executive at the Port Authority, testified Monday that he toured the bridge in 2011 and "explained to him that I had identified a potential leverage point" against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, if necessary.

That clearly has all changed, as Baroni and former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly are on trial over their alleged roles in plotting the lane closures. "We had had joking emails before".

Mowers, who now works for Trump, also testified he told Kelly about Sokolich's decision on August 12, 2013, the day before Kelly sent an email to Wildstein saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee".

Weeks later, thousands of cars were stuck in a mammoth traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, after Wildstein had executed the plan, he testified on Monday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

With time spent in the state Legislature and the good fortune of being a "young, handsome, charismatic and moderate" Republican, Baroni was respected both near and far, a source said.

A month after that text, the attorney for David Wildstein said that "evidence exists" showing Christie was aware of the lane closings as they occurred.

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Christie has denied knowing about the scheme, which damaged his unsuccessful presidential bid. The bridge, one of the world's busiest, spans the Hudson River and connects New Jersey with New York City.

Wildstein testified that he discussed with Baroni and Kelly the use of closing lanes as leverage, and the plot got underway after he got an e- mail on August 12, 2013 from Kelly.

Wildstein said Christie and Stepien were among those who discussed the strategy at a meeting about Christie's re-election. Conviction and removal from office require a two-thirds vote in favor from the state senate, and Democrats hold a majority of just 24-16, meaning at least three Republicans would have to join the Democrats in voting for conviction in order to remove Christie from office.

He now works for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's campaign, along with another former Christie aide who testified Friday, Matt Mowers.

Wildstein is scheduled to return to the stand on Tuesday.

After Kelly's email set the plan in motion, Wildstein said Stepien asked about a cover story. Christie told reporters the following day that no one close to him had prior knowledge of the operation.

Wildstein, who was Baroni's No. 2 at the Port Authority, pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiracy charges and is cooperating with the government, he says, in hope of receiving a lighter sentence. They also have said other people with more power and influence were involved in the lane closures but aren't being prosecuted.


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