NEWARK, N.J., Sept. 19 (UPI) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew close associates plotted to close traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as punishment for a local mayor who didn’t support the governor, federal prosecutors said Monday.
Christie, who serves as a top campaign adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, has denied any involvement since the incident three years ago: Knowledge of the plot or even being told the lanes were being closed as they happened.
Monday was the first time the allegations have been made in court. in the case, which has become known as “Bridgegate.”
Two former Christie administration officials — Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, both 44 — have been charged with closing the lanes and then covering it up.
U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna said Monday that they discussed the traffic tie-up at a 9/11 ceremony that Christie attended.
“During those precious few minutes, they bragged about the fact that there were traffic problems in Fort Lee and that Mayor Sokolich was not getting his calls returned,” Khanna told the jurors.
Kelly was Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and Baron was the former deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York New Jersey. They pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say Kelly and Baroni conspired with another Port Authority executive, David Wildstein, to get even, prosecutors say.
A month before the gridlock began, Kelly sent Wildstein an email that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein responded: “Got it.”
They used Port Authority resources to close two of three local access lanes to the world’s busiest bridge, prosecutors say, and agreed not to warn top officials in Fort Lee or at the Port Authority.
“For four straight days Fort Lee woke up to traffic gridlock, and for four straight days, Mayor Sokolich was treated with radio silence,” Khanna said.
Finally the lanes were ordered reopened by Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority and an appointee of New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Wildstein, who pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts last year, is cooperating with prosecutors.
Baroni’s lawyer, Michael Baldassare, said in his opening statement: “David Wildstein is a vicious guy. He’s a bully,”
Baldassare added: “The governor referred to David Wildstein as his fixer.”