NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Federal prosecutors are portraying a defendant in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal as an attack dog for Gov. Chris Christie, rather than someone just following orders.
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni testified Monday that he was hoodwinked by Port Authority colleague David Wildstein. Wildstein has pleaded guilty in the political revenge scheme and Baroni maintained Monday that he believed the closures on the bridge that connects New Jersey and New York were part of a traffic study.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes on Tuesday asked Baroni about times that he had acted as Christie’s attack dog, including cursing out the head of the state firefighters’ union.
CBS2’s Meg Baker reports Baroni testified during cross examination that Christie threatened his job if he did not perform certain tasks, saying, “You like your job, right Bill?”
Cortes also asked about attacks on the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg at a hearing on toll hikes.
Baroni said Wildstein was his contact with Trenton — over 1,700 phone calls.
Evidence showed Baroni and Wildstein had a lot of inside jokes, referring to each other as the villains in the movie “Trading Places,” Mortimer and Randolph.
Prosecutors painted Baroni as a Christie insider, part of the inner circle who plotted in 2013 to close lanes in the bridge in Fort Lee as political retribution.
Cortest drilled Baroni on the stand about why he did not reply to phone calls, emails, texts and mailed letters from Fort Lee’s mayor regarding public safety concerns at the George Washington Bridge during the closure. Baroni simply forwarded them to Wildstein with a nickname for Mayor Mark Sokolich.
“From Serbia: quote My frustration is now trying to figure out who is mad at me.”
Sokolich is of Croatian descent.
Baroni and Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, are in the fifth week of their fraud and conspiracy trial. They face up to 20 years in prison on the most serious charge.
Kelly is also expected to take the witness stand by the end of the week.
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