NEWARK, N.J. — A former official who has pleaded guilty in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case was “protected” by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, according to an executive of the agency that controls the bridge.
Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, testified that this Christie association was partial reason why he didn’t interview David Wildstein during an internal review of the September 2013 traffic jams.
Thursday was Foye’s second day on the stand in the case against Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni. They are charged with closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie.
Foye also testified that he couldn’t fire Wildstein because it was “practically complicated,” though he conceded he had the statutory authority to fire him.
Wildstein was a high school classmate of Christie’s, but Christie has denied having a close relationship with him. Wildstein was handed the job as director of interstate capital projects, a position created for him even though he falsely said in an application he had a college degree that he doesn’t hold, Baroni’s attorney Michael Baldassare said in court this week.
Prosecutors said Monday that Wildstein bragged to Christie about the lane-closures on the third of their four days, something Christie has long denied.
Foye’s chief of staff, John Ma, testified he gave an off-the-record interview to a reporter on Sept. 12, 2013, the day before Foye ordered the lanes reopened, during which he told the reporter the Port Authority wasn’t conducting a traffic study at the bridge. Ma said Foye knew he was making the call.
That contradicted the official Port Authority news release sent the following day that said the agency was studying traffic safety issues at the bridge. Foye admitted Wednesday he approved the release even though he knew it was untrue. He said it was a narrative suggested by Baroni and Wildstein.
Tina Lado, head of the Port Authority’s community outreach arm, testified her office, which normally communicates with local officials if roadwork or traffic studies could potentially have an impact on traffic in their towns, wasn’t notified about the alleged traffic study at the bridge.
She also testified she tried to contact Baroni on the first day of the lane closures after fielding a complaint from Fort Lee’s borough administrator, but didn’t receive a response. She said when Baroni returned her message the following day he curtly told her that her department’s outgoing phone charges were being reviewed because they were too high, which she took to mean she wasn’t to contact Fort Lee.
Wildstein is listed on Friday’s witness list, but may or may not make it onto the stand before the first week of the trial comes to the close.
Matt Mowers, a former campaign staffer for Christie, is expected to testify for the prosecution Friday.
Mowers worked on Christie’s 2013 gubernatorial campaign. Mayor Mark Sokolich testified Tuesday that Mowers sought his endorsement several months before the election.
When that didn’t happen, prosecutors allege the political conspiracy went into action.