Friday, October 14, 2016

Bridgegate: Prosecution rests case on infamous email


Paul Berger reports for The Record:

After almost four weeks of testimony, prosecutors wrapped up their case against two former allies of Governor Christie by calling an FBI agent to testify that she was unable to find several crucial emails between a former aide to Christie and the admitted mastermind of the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Special Agent Michelle Pickels testified in federal court in Newark on Thursday that she had a copy of the emails between the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, taken from bridge plotter David Wildstein’s email account.

But Pickels said that when she searched Kelly’s Yahoo account, she could not locate those same emails. The missing messages included the now-infamous August 2013 email from Kelly to Wildstein, first reported by The Record: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Asked why she could not find those emails, Pickels responded: “I could not tell.”

Jurors were presented with the evidence immediately after watching video of a combative appearance by Kelly’s co-defendant, Bill Baroni, in 2013, before a legislative committee probing the lane closures.

Lawyers for Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had fought to keep the video out of the trial.

The recording showed Baroni testify that Fort Lee unfairly benefited from having three access lanes to the congested bridge and that the lane reductions, over five mornings in September 2013, were part of a legitimate traffic study.

Over the course of about 1½ hours, Baroni comes under sustained interrogation in the video from a panel of angry and deeply skeptical lawmakers led by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex.

Baroni and Kelly, both 44, are accused of reducing the lanes from three to one to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse the governor’s 2013 reelection bid.

The mayor, Mark Sokolich, and his police chief, Keith Bendul, testified earlier in the trial that the closures caused gridlock in their town, severely delaying commuters, school buses and first responders. Both men said that their repeated phone calls and messages requesting relief from the Port Authority during the week of the closures went unreturned and unheeded.

During the legislative testimony, Baroni stated that the lanes from Fort Lee constituted 25 percent of the access to the upper level of the bridge but were used almost exclusively by Fort Lee residents, constituting less than 5 percent of bridge traffic. Previously, the jury heard from Port Authority traffic specialists that 25 percent of vehicles on the upper level used the three Fort Lee lanes, many of them originating from other North Jersey towns.

Baroni also told lawmakers that the lane reductions were requested by leaders of the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association. Earlier this week, the jury heard Officers Paul Nunziato and Mike DeFillipis testify that Baroni asked them to falsely state that the lane reductions were their idea. The two testified that they had refused.

Exchanges in the video between Baroni and Wisniewski were particularly tense, with both men disagreeing, talking over and making cutting comments toward each other. Wisniewski complimented Baroni several times on his “valiant” attempts to dodge questions.

At one point, Baroni offered to take Wisniewski on a field trip to look at access lanes to the Lincoln Tunnel.

“Come on. I’ll even pack your lunch,” Baroni said.

“I would want to get it tested first,” Wisniewski responded.

Read the full story here

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