|Bill Baroni, left, arrives at the Federal Courthouse for a hearing, today. AP Photo/Mel Evans|
We've already heard David Wildstein, the man that Gov. Christie put on the Port Authority to serve as his 'enforcer,' testify that he and Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee, spoke with the governor about the political-retribution, lane closing while it was happening.
In federal court today, Baroni told a different story.
Ryan Hutchins of Politico reports:
Bill Baroni, one of two defendants on trial over a scheme to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, took the witness stand in federal court on Monday, painting himself as a marginalized leader who was led to believe by his subordinate that that the closure of the access lanes was part of a traffic study.
Baroni, who served as Gov. Chris Christie's top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said he thought David Wildstein — the admitted mastermind of the scheme — was telling him the truth at the time of the lane closures in September 2013.
The former Republican state senator, in direct contradiction of Wildstein’s testimony in the same case, said the two had a discussion with Christie at the Sept. 11 memorial that made no mention of Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich or the traffic problems that were occurring in the town as a result of the lane closures.
While Wildstein had testified under oath that Baroni “bragged” to the governor that Sokolich was not getting his calls returned, Baroni said no such conversation ever took place. In reality, he said, the governor was told by Wildstein about an ongoing traffic study that could help improve traffic at the bridge and let Christie swoop in as a hero to motorists.
“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 Gov. Christie could announce he was able to fix the traffic problem at the George Washington Bridge,” Baroni testified, saying he was part of the conversation for three or four minutes.
Baroni is charged alongside Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff. They were indicted last May on charges of conspiracy, fraud and civil rights violations. They are accused of closing local access lanes to the bridge — the world’s busiest — to punish the Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.
The hint came in the midst of a routine cross examination of a government witness in the Bridgegate trial.
Michael Critchley, the prominent defense attorney, was grilling one of Gov. Chris Christie's senior aides on the stand in the Newark courtroom on Tuesday about the 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.
"Did you know that Bridget Kelly and the governor had discussions about the governor's knowledge of the lane closures before they occurred?" Critchley asked Deborah Gramiccioni, Christie's former deputy chief of staff.
"Did you know that Bridget Kelly and the governor had discussions about the lane closures during the occurrence of the lane closures?" the attorney pressed.
Gramiccioni answered no to both questions and Critchley quickly moved on to other topics.
But the cryptic questions remained. Was Critchley hinting that his client, Kelly, would testify she spoke to the governor about the lane closures while they were happening? And would she say she mentioned the political retribution plot?