By Andrew Seidman
As the news media were scrutinizing lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in 2013, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided that the Port Authority should issue a report in an effort to "put an end" to questions about September traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., according to testimony Tuesday in federal court here.
The report would explain to the public "what happened" the week of the Sept. 9-13 lane closures, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey "would take responsibility for a failure in communications," David Wildstein, a former Port Authority official, told jurors Tuesday.
"It would lay out steps to prevent something like this from happening again," Wildstein said. "The questions regarding the lane closures would go away."
Wildstein said he believed Christie, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat, discussed the idea of a report in October 2013, a month following the lane closures. Wildstein previously testified that Christie was told about the traffic jams on Sept. 11. Christie has said he doesn't recall that conversation and has denied knowledge of the lane closures.
Port Authority Chairman David Samson; Regina Egea, head of the authorities unit in the governor's office; and Charles McKenna, Christie's chief counsel, were also involved in the decision to issue a report, Wildstein said. Patrick Foye, the Port Authority's executive director and a Cuomo appointee, would sign off on it, according to Wildstein.
The report was never issued, but Wildstein's testimony, under cross-examination from a defense attorney in the bridge case, raised the prospect that the governors who controlled the Port Authority were engaged in a cover-up that prosecutors say was perpetrated to conceal the true purpose of the lane closures: political retribution.
Wildstein didn't specifically say what explanation the report was to offer regarding the lane closures. But he has testified that the cover story was that the lane closures were part of a traffic study.
Michael Critchley Sr., an attorney for former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, asked Wildstein whether Christie "was mad at Foye for meddling in New Jersey affairs." Wildstein said that was his understanding, based on his conversations with Samson.
The testimony came as the trial of Bill Baroni, Christie's former top executive appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, entered its third week.
Baroni and Kelly are charged with conspiracy and misusing Port Authority resources, among other counts. Wildstein pleaded guilty in 2015 to felony conspiracy charges and is cooperating with the government, he says, in hopes of avoiding prison.
Prosecutors allege that Baroni and Kelly conspired with Wildstein and others to cause massive traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 as a means of punishing a local mayor for his refusal to endorse Christie's re-election campaign that year.
(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer