NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — One of the top men at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey pointed a finger at the top leaders at the “Bridgegate” trial Wednesday, saying they knew exactly what was going on at the time.
CBS2’s Christine Sloan was in the courtroom for all the twists and turns in the trial of Bridget Kelly and Bill Baroni. They are accused of deliberately closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge and causing massive traffic jams in September 2013 out of political spite.
The defense alleged Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority who was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, knew early on that David Wildstein – Christie’s second in command at the agency – had shut down the access lanes on the bridge. The defense further claimed that Foye let the closures go on to stir up trouble for New Jersey.
Foye declined to comment outside court when CBS2’s Sloan asked him if he wanted to “be the hero.” He did not answer that question on the stand either.
“When you hear witnesses saying they’re liars, it affects their credibility,” said Kelly attorney Michael Critchley.
Kelly, who at the time was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff, and Baroni, who at the time was deputy executive director at the Port Authority, are accused of closing the lanes to punish Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie for reelection.
Contrary to defense claims, Foye said he was surprised when he found out the lanes were shut down on Sept. 13 and ordered they be reopened.
He claimed that even after he issued the order, Baroni came up to him twice and asked that he shut down the lanes again. Foye testified that Baroni said it was important to Trenton to shut the lanes down and that “Trenton may call.”
Baroni’s attorney declined to comment outside court.
“Today is a very, very enlightening day,” said attorney Michael Baldassare. “That is all I have to say for that.”
Earlier, Sokolich was cross-examined and told the jury he lied when he wrote to a newspaper that the bridge lane closures were not a case of political retaliation.
Sokolich admitted he lied in a letter to the editor of the Newark Star-Ledger in November 2013 when he denied earlier reports he’d been targeted for not endorsing Christie.
While he admitted he sent a letter to Baroni saying the shutdown was punitive in nature, two months after Christie was elected, he sent a letter to the newspaper saying the lane closures were not political retribution.
Sokolich went on to admit he lied because he feared a billion-dollar project in his town would be put at risk, CBS2’s Sloan reported.
“I was petrified. was petrified of further retribution,” Sokolich said on the witness stand. “I wanted to do everything possible to keep the Borough of Fort Lee out of this story.”
Sokolich also said that he was confused about meeting he had with liaisons from Kelly’s office.
Sokolich had originally said the meetings took place right before the lane closures, but said Wednesday that the meeting had occurred much earlier, in March.
On Tuesday, Sokolich described his town as being in complete gridlock when the local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were reduced from three to one.
He said traffic did not move because the closure of the lanes – used by drivers in Fort Lee and neighboring towns – jammed up local streets.
Sokolich said he called his friend Baroni. He said Baroni had always been there for him in those four days in September 2013, when he got radio silence.
Voice messages from the mayor to Baroni played in court.
On the first day of the jams, Sokolich pleaded, “The bigger problem, getting kids to school, help please, it’s maddening.”
On the second day, Sokolich said: “Have complete town that’s in revolt. Who is mad at me?” and: “Rather urgent. Please call.”
Sokolich also testified that his relationship with a liaison from a department that defendant Kelly led also went sour when the mayor said he would not endorse Christie.
He said around that time, Kelly’s email reading, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” was sent.
Kelly was Christie’s deputy chief of staff. Baroni was deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge.
Kelly and Baroni are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, deprivation of civil rights and fraudulently using an agency that receives federal funds. The most serious charge carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
Christie has said he didn’t know about the Bridgegate plot.
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