Christie’s Agenda Above All, Star Bridgegate Witness Says

     NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Since Day 1 of the Bridgegate trial, disgraced former Port Authority official David Wildstein has been called Christie’s enforcer and “ventriloquist doll.” He has been called a liar and a fraud.
     Today, Wildstein told the U.S. District Court that he and his former boss at the Port Authority had only one mission at the supposedly nonpartisan transportation agency: to further the agenda of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
     Wildstein faces up to 15 years in prison after having already pleaded guilty to orchestrating a massive traffic jam three years ago to cause headaches for the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey — a Democrat who was not backing Christie for re-election. That sentence could be reduced based on his testimony.
     Christie installed Wildstein at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and is even said to have fashioned the title, director of interstate capital projects, specifically for him.
     Wildstein held this position in September 2013 when he admittedly caused a four-day shutdown of Fort Lee’s three exclusive lanes leading into the George Washington Bridge.
     Prosecutors say he carried out the plot with William Baroni Jr., who had been Wildstein’s supervisor at the Port Authority, and with Christie’s former chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly. Both stand accused at trial now of fraud and misusing government resources.
     Opening what is expected to be multiple days of testimony, Wildstein told the court Friday afternoon that it was common for him and Baroni to use code words in talking about their pro-Christie mission.
     He said they had what they called a “one-constituent rule.”
     It meant that “the only person who mattered was Governor Christie.”
     Christie has repeatedly denied involvement in the decision to shut down two heavily trafficked lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge. Prosecutors noted Monday that Wildstein will testify that Christie did in fact know about the shutdown, and its targeting of Fort Lee, as it was happening.
     Christie is listed as a witness for the prosecution but has not yet been called. New Jersey Democratic lawmakers are reportedly considering impeaching the governor for what he may have known and not revealed about the case.
     Supporting the government’s case that Baroni and Wildstein were on the same page, Wildstein pointed to emails the men exchanged in December 2010.
     With the subject line “Schmuck of the Week,” Baroni drew Wildstein’s attention to an article in the Newark Star-Ledger about a Republican assemblyman from Union County who had criticized the operations at Newark Liberty International Airport.
     In his email, Baroni was miffed that a fellow Republican had chosen to air his grievances to the public. “Why the hell didn’t he just call?” Baroni wrote.
     Wildstein replied: “Because he lacks the one-constituent rule.”
     The men talked about the one-constituent rule “all the time,” Wildstein said, adding that they used it as a barometer to make other decisions.
     Another of their rules said: “if it was not good for Governor Christie, it was not good for us.”
     Wildstein said they believed as well that “governors were best served by staff who had no competing agenda.”
     The two were friends since 2000, Wildstein said, long before they worked together at the Port Authority.
     Wildstein noted that he had even helped canvass voters for Baroni’s own political campaigns. Baroni won a seat on the New Jersey Assembly in 2003 and held it until 2008, when he spent two years on the New Jersey Senate.
     Though very close with Baroni, Wildstein said they had different styles.
     They viewed the Port Authority, Wildstein said, as a 50-50 collaboration between New York and New Jersey, and they were responsible for acting in the Garden State’s interest.
     Wildstein said he saw it as his responsibility to be “very aggressive.”
     “Baroni didn’t enjoy playing bad cop,” Wildstein testified.
     The witness described his personal style as “at times very harsh, very blunt, very direct” and often involved “going directly at people.”
     Wildstein also delved into his relationship with Kelly, Baroni’s co-defendant. He said he viewed her as his “boss,” in light of her standing as a senior Christie administration official.
     The two often used personal email accounts to communicate with each other about politics because, as Wildstein explained, personal emails were not discoverable under Freedom of Information Act requests.
     For requests as seemingly mundane as tours of the World Trade Center construction site for New Jersey politicians, Wildstein deferred to Kelly.
     Such trips — a well as grants, steel from the September 11 terrorist attacks, and extra Port Authority equipment or vehicles — were seen as “goodie bags” by via Christie to woo Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey to endorse the Republican governor in 2013 his reelection bid, Wildstein testified.
     The Port Authority, which is jointly run by political appointees from New Jersey and New York, was viewed by Christie himself as an “economic engine” for its massive revenues and assets, as well as a “valuable resource” to be used politically, Wildstein said.
     “Goodie bags” from the Port Authority would be doled out to Democratic mayors and municipal officials, after which the Christie administration would then “take credit” for the favors, Wildstein said.
     Matt Mowers, who served on Christie’s reelection team and currently works for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, testified earlier that Christie staffers had kept a spreadsheet of potential Democratic lawmakers for whom Christie had done favors. That spreadsheet was to be used to court those Democratic lawmakers to endorse Christie, Mowers testified.
     During the trial Wildstein has been the most ubiquitous name, besides the defendants and Christie, though it was often brought up in a negative light.
     Earlier this week, Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye testified that Wildstein was an abusive employee who was hated by “hundreds, perhaps thousands” of fellow Port Authority employees.
     Counting himself among Wildstein detesters, Foye noted how Wildstein had bought a website named after Foye as part of a veiled threat on his way out of the agency.
     Such was to be expected from a man who Foye said kept a piece of telephone equipment at his Port Authority desk that essentially let Wildstein tap into the phone calls of fellow Port Authority officials.
     The website was not Wildstein’s only maneuver upon leaving the Port Authority, Foye said, telling the court that Wildstein also left with certain equipment that the agency wanted back. It is believed that the equipment included hard drive with information about Baroni.
     Foye said he tasked former Port Authority chair David Samson with the repo job.
     “You are closest to him,” Foye said he told Samson with regard to Wildstein.
     Samson pleaded guilty in July to a felony bribery count — admitting that he had used United Airlines’ plans for a larger hangar at Newark Airport as leverage for his travel convenience.
     On Monday Wildstein will continue his testimony, which may take several days. The prosecution has roughly 20 additional witnesses it is expected to call before the defense attorneys for Kelly and for Baroni presents their case.

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