Comparing Bridgegate trial testimony to Christie’s public comments
Governor Christie was a central figure in the trial over the George Washington Bridge lane closures, as lawyers for the prosecution and the defense homed in on his aggressive style and cast doubt on his past statements about the traffic scandal.
During six weeks of testimony in the trial of Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, several witnesses for the prosecution and defense poked holes at some of the key public statements Christie made after it was revealed that top officials in his administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey mired Fort Lee in traffic for five mornings in September 2013.
Taking the stand after years of silence, Baroni and Kelly gave accounts that contradicted Christie and tied him directly to the scandal. So did David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official and architect of the lane-closure scheme, who pleaded guilty and was the star witness for the prosecution. Wildstein testified that Christie laughed at a Sept. 11 memorial event when told that traffic was paralyzing Fort Lee and that Mayor Mark Sokolich wasn’t getting his calls returned.
Under tough questioning and under oath, two of Christie’s closest advisers over the years also contradicted him: political strategist Mike DuHaime and former press secretary Michael Drewniak. One of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former appointees to the Port Authority board, Scott Rechler, gave testimony that conflicted with Christie’s past statements.
The jury convicted Baroni and Kelly of conspiracy, misusing government property and depriving Fort Lee residents of their civil rights.
Christie was neither charged by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office nor called to testify at the trial – but his shadow loomed over it. He pledged on Friday to “set the record straight in the coming days regarding the lies that were told by the media and in the courtroom.”
Discussing the traffic scandal that stopped his meteoric rise in politics is not something Christie has relished or done much over the years, but when it comes up, he usually references his remarks from a lengthy, apologetic news conference on Jan. 9, 2014, in which he took nearly two hours of questions and denied authorizing or having advance knowledge of the lane closures.
Christie did so again on Friday, after the verdict on Baroni and Kelly was read in Newark federal court.
“On January 9, 2014, I apologized to the people of New Jersey for the conduct exhibited by some members of my administration who showed a lack of respect for the appropriate role of government and for the people we serve. Those people were terminated by me and today, the jury affirms that decision by also holding them responsible for their own conduct,” Christie said in a statement.
“Like so many people in New Jersey, I’m saddened by this case and I’m saddened about the choices made by Bill Baroni, Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein,” Christie said. “But let me be clear once again, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments, and had no role in authorizing them. No believable evidence was presented to contradict that fact. Anything said to the contrary over the past six weeks in court is simply untrue.”
Fishman said at a news conference after the verdict Friday that he was not in a position to vouch for the testimony that came from defense witnesses including Baroni and Kelly, but that government witnesses including Wildstein told the truth.
“We don’t ask people to testify about things when we think they might not be true,” he said. Asked why Christie was not charged, Fishman said prosecutors only pursued charges against those they could prove were guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Emails, text messages and phone logs backed up their case against Baroni, Kelly and Wildstein.
The following is a comparison of Christie’s statements and contradictory testimony from court witnesses. Spokesmen for Christie did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
“I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or it execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here.” – Christie, Jan. 9, 2014
The governor has been adamant that he first learned of the lane closures from “press accounts” after they ended on Sept. 13, 2013.
Wildstein testified that Baroni told Christie about the traffic jam at a Sept. 11 memorial event in 2013, the third day the lanes were closed. Baroni and Christie carried on the conversation in a sarcastic tone, Wildstein recalled.
“Mr. Baroni said to Governor Christie: ‘Governor, I have to tell you, there’s a tremendous amount of traffic in Fort Lee this morning. Major traffic jams. … Mayor Sokolich is very frustrated that he can’t get his telephone calls returned, that nobody is answering Mayor Sokolich’s questions,’” Wildstein said. Christie responded by saying, “Well, I would imagine that he wouldn’t be getting his phone calls returned,’” according to Wildstein.
When he was a political blogger before going to work for Christie, Wildstein went by the pseudonym Wally Edge. He testified that at the Sept. 11 memorial, “Governor Christie said, you know, again in the sarcastic tone of that conversation, he said, ‘Well, I’m sure Mr. Edge would not be involved in anything that’s political.’ He referred to me -- he would refer to me as Mr. Edge, using the pseudonym of the website I had formerly written for. He said, ‘I’m sure Mr. Edge wouldn’t do anything political.’ And he laughed.”
According to Baroni, it was Wildstein who did the talking at the Sept. 11 memorial.
“David Wildstein discussed with the governor the traffic study that was going on at the bridge in order to see if he would be able to move mainline traffic faster into the toll booths so that Governor Christie could announce that he was able to fix the traffic problem at the upper level of the George Washington Bridge,” Baroni testified.
Kelly, formerly the governor’s deputy chief of staff, testified that Christie approved the lane closures on Aug. 12, 2013, a month before they began. Christie asked Kelly to run the plan by his then-chief of staff, Kevin O’Dowd, she recalled.
“I said, ‘Governor, by the way, I spoke to Wildstein today about, apparently the Port Authority is going to be doing a traffic study in Fort Lee.’ And I explained the access lanes to him,” Kelly testified. “And he said, ‘OK.’ He said, ‘When are they doing this?’ I said: ‘I believe imminently. I believe Wildstein said he’s working with everyone. He did say there’s going to be tremendous traffic problems in Fort Lee.’ And he said, ‘All right.’ You know, that’s -- he really didn’t react. He said, ‘That’s fine.’”
“I don’t even remember in the last four years even having a meeting in my office with David Wildstein.” – Christie, Jan. 9, 2014
Christie and Wildstein attended the same high school. After the traffic jam’s political motivations were revealed in 2014, Christie minimized their relationship and said “I did not interact with David.”
It was Baroni’s decision to hire Wildstein at the Port Authority, Christie said at his Jan. 9 news conference. “He asked for permission, I gave my permission for him to hire David,” he said.
“Governor Christie told me to hire him,” Baroni testified. “He was below me on a flowchart but he reported to Trenton and to the governor.”
Baroni added that Christie “told me to go get David Wildstein and get him to work at the Port Authority,” that “it became clear he was implementing specific issues and interests that the governor wanted addressed” and that Wildstein was “Christie’s voice at the Port Authority.”
Wildstein said that when he joined the Port Authority in 2010, three years before Christie’s re-election campaign, the governor and top aides told him to use agency resources as a “goody bag” to secure endorsements. Wildstein and Baroni operated under the “one-constituent rule,” Wildstein testified, and Christie was their one constituent.
“My understanding, which came only from what Mr. Baroni told me, is that he went to the governor and asked if it was OK to hire me,” Wildstein testified. “Based upon what Mr. Baroni told me, the governor approved that.”
Although Christie could not recall any meetings with Wildstein, in June 2010, Baroni and Wildstein met with the governor to discuss which Port Authority appointees from past administrations would be let go, Wildstein testified. Wildstein and his wife had some face time with Christie and his at a Christmas party in the governor’s mansion. Christie once took Wildstein to the third floor of the State House to show him former Gov. Walter Edge’s portrait, and then Wildstein joined Christie and others for an hour-long meeting in the governor’s office, Wildstein testified. Christie edited a statement to add praise for Wildstein when he resigned from the Port Authority in December 2013, after the lane closures had sparked wide controversy, according to emails submitted into evidence. Christie referred to Wildstein as Mr. Wolf, after the “Pulp Fiction” character played by Harvey Keitel who removes dead bodies from crime scenes, Wildstein testified.
“I’ve made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they’ve all assured me that they don’t.”
“I’ve spoken to Mr. Stepien, who’s the person in charge of the campaign, and he has assured me the same thing.” – Christie, Dec. 13, 2013
Responding to reporters’ questions, Christie said his senior staff and campaign manager Bill Stepien had no advance knowledge of the lane-closure scheme.
When Christie said this, two of his closest advisers – political strategist Mike DuHaime and former press secretary Michael Drewniak – had already alerted the governor that Kelly and Stepien were involved, according to their testimony.
DuHaime testified that he told Christie two days prior to his news conference, in a phone call on Dec. 11, 2013.
“It was not just Bridget Kelly we were talking about, it was Bridget Kelly and Bill Stepien,” DuHaime testified. “He said that he needed to meet with Bill, and he asked if I could, you know, reach out and make sure that Bill would reach out to him and set up a meeting.”
Christie then denied at his Dec. 13 news conference that his staff or Stepien had knowledge of the lane closures, and DuHaime did not follow up with the governor, he said.
“He knew I had information different from the information he gave,” DuHaime testified.
Drewniak said Wildstein told him on Oct. 18, 2013, that Kelly and Stepien had been looped in on the lane closures. That day, Drewniak told Christie’s then-chief counsel, Charles McKenna, he testified.
Then, on Dec. 5, 2013, Drewniak recounted for Christie and O’Dowd a dinner conversation he had had with Wildstein the night before.
“I was out with Wildstein last night and among other things he had said that Bridget and Bill and now the governor had been -- he was saying that they were aware,” Drewniak testified when asked what he told Christie at that meeting. Drewniak said he told Christie “how Wildstein had claimed that he had told the governor at the September 11 memorial event.”
“I wanted to show Mr. Drewniak how I had put together a file that showed the traffic study as a cover story,” Wildstein testified about their dinner.
Baroni testified that in November 2013, Port Authority Chairman David Samson, a Christie confidant, ordered up a written report about the lane closures. It was later edited by Samson, Wildstein and one of Christie’s aides at the time, Regina Egea, Baroni testified.
Deborah Gramiccioni, another former high-ranking aide to Christie, said she also alerted Christie, McKenna and O’Dowd about Kelly’s possible involvement in the lane-closure scandal the night before Christie’s news conference Dec. 13, 2013, where Gramiccioni was announced as Baroni’s replacement at the Port Authority.
“I told him that [there was] a hum -- I used the word hum -- that Bridget was on emails relating to the lane closure,” Gramiccioni testified. “And I knew that because I had spoken to Bill Baroni.”
“Not true. Not true. I’ve denied that story before. That’s an old story. And Governor Cuomo has denied it as well. So it’s not true.” – Christie, Jan. 9, 2014
Christie has long denied that he and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke about managing the fallout from the bridge scandal, and Cuomo has denied it as well.
Scott Rechler, the former vice chairman of the Port Authority and a Cuomo appointee, said in court that they did talk. Rechler said Cuomo told him about this in October 2013.
“Governor Cuomo told me that in one of his conversations he was having with Governor Christie, Governor Christie mentioned to him that David Samson was, once again, and I use once again because it was frequent, complaining about Pat Foye interfering and getting involved in politics,” Rechler testified. Foye is the Port Authority’s executive director and a Cuomo appointee.
“My understanding was that Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo had discussed this” in October 2013, Wildstein testified. The two governors discussed the idea of issuing a report from the Port Authority in which “the New Jersey side accepted responsibility” for the lane closures, and “Mr. Foye would sign off on that,” Wildstein said.
“That would be the report that would be issued for the agency, for the Port Authority, and my understanding at the time is that that would put an end to this issue,” Wildstein said.
“Mayor Sokolich -- not only did I never have a meeting with him, he was never mentioned to me. … I don’t even know this guy. How could it be that someone would be doing something like this against a mayor that I never had any conversations with nor any sense that we were even seeking his endorsement?” – Christie, Jan. 9, 2014
Christie said that the Fort Lee mayor “was not on my radar screen at all” and that “I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of a lineup.”
Sokolich testified that Christie staffer Matt Mowers assiduously sought his endorsement beginning in the fall of 2012, a year before Christie won re-election. The mayor recalled that he and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer once had lunch with Christie at the governor’s mansion in Princeton.
According to Kelly’s testimony, when Christie authorized the lane closures on Aug. 12, 2013, his only question was, “How is our relationship with Mayor Sokolich?” Mowers told Kelly that day that Sokolich would not be endorsing Christie.
“I don’t know about specific meetings or what’s going on, but certainly, you know, I will look into all those things.” – Christie, Jan. 9, 2014
As the bridge scandal began to unfold, Mayor Steve Fulop of Jersey City, a Democrat, charged that Christie’s administration and the Port Authority had retaliated against him by canceling a series of meetings. Christie was asked about it at his marathon news conference and said he didn’t know “what’s going on.” Fulop also declined to endorse Christie’s re-election.
Kelly said that O’Dowd told her to cancel a series of meetings administration officials had lined up with Fulop. O’Dowd said “they should be canceled one after the other by each department,” Kelly testified. Christie also gave the order and bluntly told Kelly, “No one’s entitled to a [expletive] meeting,” she testified.
At the Port Authority, Baroni also froze out Fulop, he testified. “The governor was the boss. I was following my boss’s direction,” Baroni said.
“The message was political,” Wildstein testified. “Mayor Fulop hadn’t endorsed Governor Christie and he was to receive a message that he wasn’t going to get any -- he was not going to get any assistance out of the state of New Jersey while he was mayor.”
After being ignored by Baroni, Fulop reached out to Samson, the Port Authority chairman, and Christie again ordered radio silence, according to testimony. Samson raised the issue with Christie directly at the Sept. 11, 2013, memorial event, Wildstein testified.
“Mr. Samson said to Governor Christie: ‘I have to meet with him. I’m the chairman of the Port Authority. I have to meet with him,’” Wildstein said. “Governor Christie said no, no meetings with -- no meetings with Mayor Fulop, you know, he’s not getting any responses from the administration, just like Mayor Sokolich wasn’t.”
“Governor Christie referred to Mayor Sokolich as well, that [the] Port Authority wasn’t to talk to either of the mayors,” Wildstein said.