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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Bridgegate Plotter Ousted One Day|After Christie Heard He Squealed

NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie learned on Dec. 5, 2013, that a close ally had implicated him in the traffic jam targeting a political adversary of Christie's. The governor's spokesman at the time testified Wednesday that the ally was forced to resign one day later.

"He had now added somebody new to the picture," Mike Drewniak told the court of the governor's convicted henchman David Wildstein. "And that would be the governor."

As part of a guilty plea last year, Wildstein admitted that he engineered the four-day lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 to exact retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Christie was up for re-election that fall, and Sokolich revealed he would be endorsing a Democrat.

Though Christie has evaded charges on the political plot so far, testimony implicating the Republican governor has been mounting as a trial on the bridge plot stretches into its fifth week.

Facing a possible indictment in Bergen County, the governor announced today that he will make a Thanksgiving Eve court appearance to answer the charges.

It was Christie who installed Wildstein at the public agency in charge of the bridge, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Wildstein says the governor knew about and approved of the revenge scheme, which he carried out with Bill Baroni Jr., a fellow Christie appointee at the Port Authority, and with Bridget Anne Kelly, a member of the governor's senior staff.

The unexpected lane closures in September 2013 caused unprecedented traffic at one of the busiest spans in the world, connecting New Jersey to New York City.

Wildstein has admitted that the "traffic study" Port Authority initially blamed for the closed lanes was a cover-up.

Drewniak's testimony before the federal jury in Newark today picks up on a thread Wildstein began earlier in the trial as the government's star witness.

Wildstein talked about meeting Drewniak on Dec. 4, 2013, at Steakhouse 85, a restaurant in New Brunswick.

At dinner, Wildstein told Drewniak that Christie was aware of the lane closures, and that there were others involved from Christie's office.

"The governor did not tell me to stop it," Wildstein said he told Drewniak.

Wildstein appeared frustrated, believing he was "taking all the blame while others were aware of the traffic study, Drewniak said.

Drewniak testified that he advised Wildstein to "sit still and wait for things to play out."

The former spokesman insisted this morning, however, that the punitive aspect of the lane closures had not come up.

Wildstein "never told me that," Drewniak said, under questioning by Kelly's defense attorney Michael Critchley.

In the governor's office on Dec. 5, Drewniak briefed Christie on his dinner with Wildstein. He did say how Christie responded to the blockbuster allegation — that Wildstein had described Christie as knowledgeable about the lane shutdown.

Two days after that dinner, the Port Authority asked Wildstein to resign. Wildstein for his part had testified that he considered the timing "a little strange."

The jury heard last week from a prosecution witness that Drewniak knew — at least a month before his dinner with Wildstein — of a link between the lane closures and Christie's office.

Charles McKenna, who served as Christie's chief counsel until 2014, testified that Drewniak told him in November 2013 of emails about the lane closures involving a member of the governor's senior staff.

Kelly's attorney questioned Drewniak this morning about activity at the governor's office just after the lanes reopened on Sept. 13.

A Wall Street Journal inquiry about the lane closures earned an off-the-record reply from Drewniak on Sept. 17.

Drewniak said he told the reporter that the lanes were closed because of a traffic study that was not to be disturbed.

Critchley asked why Drewniak did not try to determine what Christie knew.

But Drewniak said he instead went to "chat" with Kelly.

"I didn't see any reason to bother the governor," said Drewniak.

The witness noted that he did not ask Kelly if Christie was made aware of the lane closures.

Drewniak is the first witness Kelly's defense called to the stand.

Baroni's defense wrapped up their case this morning, with Baroni himself concluding a third day of testimony.

During his testimony today Baroni recalled having asked his co-defendant Kelly, at one point after the lane shutdown, for advice on whether to respond to Sokolich.

Baroni said Kelly was herself seeking advice from the governor's office.

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