Bridgegate Jury Tours Witness’s ‘Path of Lies’

      NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Living up to his promise of “rottweiler”-style questioning, a defense attorney turned up the heat Friday on the star witness in the federal trial over politically engineered lane closures that crippled New Jersey traffic in 2013.
     Michael Critchley took over cross-examination of David Wildstein this morning for the witness’ sixth day on the stand.
     Critchley represents Gov. Chris Chritie’s former chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, who faces charges of fraud and misuse of government resources. She along with former Christie ally Bill Baroni stand accuse of orchestrating four days of gridlock traffic caused by closing two lanes onto New Jersey’s George Washington Bridge in September 2013.
     Wildstein has already admitted that the plot was intended to get back the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s re-election campaign. He faces up to 15 years in prison, though his testimony against Kelly and Baroni is expected to shave time off that sentence.
     Wildstein saw himself as Gov. Christie’s enforcer at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and told the court about his dreams of putting Christie in the White House.
     The Bridgegate conspiracy wound up torpedoing Christie’s primary campaign, though the New Jersey governor has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
     During cross-examination Friday, attorney Critchley showed the court a photograph in which the expression on Wildstein and Christie’s faces are nothing short of amazed.
     Wildstein said he had been teased about how they both had “adoring looks” for each other in the image.
     Critchley went into attack mode right away in his questioning of Wildstein.
     The attorney shares a first name with Baroni’s counsel, Michael Baldassare, but Critchley told reporters this morning that the similarities end there, likening their style differences to that of a rottweiler and a shih tzu.
     Attacking the witness about his “path of lies,” Critchley went through all of the lies and political machinations that make up Wildstein’s life.
     “You know right from wrong, don’t you,” Critchley asked.
     Wildstein said, “Generally speaking.”
     “There are times when I’ve done things that were wrong,” Wildstein allowed.
     Critchley doubled down.
     “There were times when you engaged in lies and deception when it was in your interest or something you were interested in,” the attorney said.
     Critchley brought up a story that has emerged repeatedly since trial began two weeks ago — that Wildstein once bragged about stealing a coat from the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg — hoping the elderly Democrat would have to borrow someone else’s jacket and be uncomfortable.
     When this story came up earlier this week, Wildstein chalked his behavior up to that of an “exuberant volunteer.”
     The description did not sit well with Critchley.
     “You were a thief,” the attorney exclaimed.
     “At the time I was proud of myself, and I’m embarrassed by it now,” Wildstein said.
     In keeping with his image as a Nixonian-style enforcer, Wildstein felt a kinship with the iconic “Pulp Fiction” character Winston Wolfe, played by Harvey Keitel. Port Authority Police meanwhile referred to Weinstein as “Meyer Lansky.” Weinstein said he enjoyed being thought of as a Jewish mob boss.
     Critchley asked Wildstein about a time in his 20s when Wildstein manipulated election results for the Livingston GOP chairman position by destroying petitions the incumbent had collected.
     Livingston, a town in northern-central New Jersey, had been home to Wildstein and Christie both in their youth.
     Wildstein said he had been friends with the incumbent chairman at the time, but he was working for the challenger.
     Asked to deliver the incumbent’s petitions, Wildstein instead destroyed four of them, pushing his candidate over the edge in the race.
     “He did something dangerous,” Critchley said. “He trusted you.”
     The election gave Wildstein the office of vice-chairman to his candidate, and he even served as chairman briefly.
     “That position of power came from lies,” Critchley said.
     Wildstein’s aspirations grew in later years, and Critchley questioned Wildstein about his endgame of putting Christie in national office.
     “I would have enjoyed serving in a Christie administration,” Wildstein said.
     The attorney brought up various emails Wildstein exchanged in 2013 with Christie’s campaign manager at the time, Bill Stepien.
     The emails paint Wildtein as an unofficial employee of the Christie campaign, showing that he devoted a lot of time to the governor’s office while at the Port Authority.
     “You were committed to Chris Christie,” Critchley asked
     In one email, Wildstein offers the campaign advice on voter analysis.
     In another he discussed how it is problematic for Christie that members of the New Jersey State Investment Council are appointed, rather than elected.
     Since this council is involved in state pensions, Wildstein said Christie raising money for Wall Street raises the possibility of conflict of interest.
     Securities and Exchange Commission rules forbid soliciting money from appointees.
     Wildstein also advised the campaign on targeting voters. He said Lt Gov. Kim Guadagno could go to the Port Authority bus terminal in one evening and find a line of bus commuters
     She could probably meet with a thousand targeted voters in 90 minutes, he said.
     Wildstein also kept Stepien apprised of newly hired public officials — mostly in the Port Authority police — whom the campaign could target for endorsement.
     Critchley reminded the jury of Wildstein’s dishonesty as well, having the witness admit fabricating a story about using operatives to infiltrate the League of Women Voters, to take over the league and make it more conservative.
     “When I told that story,” Wildstein began.
     “Lie,” Critchley interrupted.
     “When I told that story,” Wildstein tried again.
     “It was a lie,” Critchley finished.
     Wildstein lied on his job application to the Port Authority as well, the court heard.
     Though Wildstein claimed to have graduated from George Washington University’s political-science program, he never finished his bachelor’s degree.
     Before Critchley began cross-examination this morning, defense attorney Baldassare announced that he will be filing a motion to accuse Wildstein of perjury.
     Baldassare took issue with Wildstein’s prior testimony about meeting at a Hyatt Regency with Baroni on Dec. 11, 2013 — around the time both men were forced out of the Port Authority.
     The defense says prosecutors did not include this statement in notes on Wildstein’s statements to them and to the FBI.
     Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes called that “ridiculous.”
     Critchley finished the day questioning Wildstein’s inability to recall the context of certain emails, including one from Aug. 12, 2013, to Kelly in which he wrote: “I have an issue to discuss with you, extraordinarily weird, even by my standards.”
     Wildstein claimed he didn’t know what he had meant by that email.
     “And yet you remember a conversation you had with Gov. Christie in 1977,” Critchley responded, referring to earlier testimony during which Wildstein recounted his and Christie’s nascent political careers.
     “I recall it well,” Wildstein responded.
     Critchley needled later, after Wildstein again claimed he didn’t know the meaning of an email exhibit in the trial that he had sent to Kelly in June 2013.
     “Do you have a memory that serves your self interest,” Critchley asked.
     Critchley will continue his cross-examination of Wildstein on Tuesday. Court will not be in session on Monday in observance of Rosh Hashanah.

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