NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures and traffic jams while they were underway, the prosecution’s key witness testified Tuesday.
David Wildstein, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive, returned to the stand in the trial of Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, two one-time Christie allies accused of orchestrating the four-day gridlock. Baroni and Kelly face conspiracy, fraud and civil rights deprivation charges.
Wildstein pleaded guilty to his role in the plot last year.
In court Tuesday, he testified that Christie was told about the traffic jams on the third day of the gridlock during a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York.
Wildstein said Baroni told Christie there was “a tremendous amount of traffic in Fort Lee” that morning, and that Mayor Mark Sokolich was “very frustrated” that his phone calls were being ignored. Wildstein said Christie responded, saying, “I imagine he wouldn’t be getting phone calls returned.”
He also testified that Baroni told Christie that Wildstein was monitoring the situation.
“I’m sure Mr. Edge would never be involved in anything political,” Christie responded sarcastically and laughed, according to Wildstein. “Wally Edge” was a pseudonym Wildstein used while publishing a New Jersey politics website.
Prosecutors showed jurors several photographs from the day showing Wildstein, Baroni and Christie huddled together talking and smiling.
Aederal prosecutor Lee Cortes asked Wildstein if he and Baroni were bragging about the traffic jams.
“Yes, very much so. This was our one constituent,” Wildstein replied, referring to Christie. “I was pleasing my one constituent. I was happy that he was happy.”
Wildstein’s account was the first testimony to suggest that Christie knew about the scheme while it was unfolding.
Christie has repeatedly denied that claim and has not been charged with a crime.
At an event Tuesday, the Republican governor said, “From the moment all this became public, my one job was to make sure that I told the people of New Jersey the absolute truth. I have, I’ll continue to, and no matter what else anybody says, that will not change.”
New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said this latest testimony gives texture and context to the story.
“It wasn’t just, ‘hey there’s traffic in Fort Lee.’ There was a reason for creating that traffic,” she told WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron.
Weinberg also said the governor is responsible for the climate he created within his administration.
“It is that environment and that atmosphere which produced what we’ve been hearing these last number of days. And that’s what I know the governor is responsible for,” she said.
Wildstein went on to testify that day after day he checked in with Kelly on whether or not to keep the lanes closed. He said the answer was “yes” for a week.
When Wildstein told Kelly that he was going to brief Christie on the plan, he said Kelly responded, saying, “the governor is going to love this.”
The day wrapped up with Wildstein describing a bogus traffic study that he said was used to “spin” the story to New Jersey legislators and reporters.
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