Monday, September 19, 2016

U.S. Says That Gov. Christie Knew of Bridge Plot


The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew his top allies were involved in the snarling of traffic near the George Washington Bridge to punish a Mayor who didn’t back Christie’s re-election, Federal officials said for the first time since the scandal became public.

Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni deliberately shut access lanes to the bridge to paralyze traffic in Fort Lee, New Jersey, over several mornings during the first week of school in September 2013 to retaliate against Mayor Mark Sokolich, according to the Prosecutors. Christie wasn’t charged in the case, although the trial may shed light on what he knew and when he knew it.

Baroni and the Government’s key witness in the trial, David Wildstein, discussed the traffic tie-up at a 9/11 Ceremony that Christie attended, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna told jurors at the start of a trial in Newark Federal court. “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 said.

Khanna’s statement contradicted three years of denials by the Governor. While Christie’s political opponents have investigated the closings, and a probe funded by his Administration purported to clear him, this marked the first time a Prosecutor said Christie knew of the plot as it was happening.

Even on Sunday, Christie maintained he didn’t know anything and would be willing to testify at the trial if called to do so. “I would have no problem if called to testify by either side,” Christie, now a Top Campaign adviser to Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, said on CNN’s State of the Union. “But the fact is that I won’t because I really don’t have any knowledge of this incident at all.”

Kelly, Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff, and Baroni, the former Deputy Executive Director at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, have pleaded not guilty and promise a defense that will explore the inner workings of Christie’s Administration.

“This case is about the defendants’ abuse of power and callous disregard for the people of Fort Lee,” Khanna told jurors. Kelly and Baroni “chose personal, political revenge over public service. Not only was that conduct vindictive and mean-spirited, it was criminal.”

Baroni’s lawyer Michael Baldassare said Christie dispatched his two highest-ranking staff members to fire Baroni, suggesting there were others who knew about the plot.
‘A Vacuum’ “Phone calls don’t happen in a vacuum,” Baldassare told the jury. “Events don’t happen in a vacuum.”

The case could further embarrass Christie, who was trying to position himself in the November 2013 Election as a bipartisan star who appealed to Democrats like Sokolich. But when Sokolich decided not to cross Party lines, Kelly and Baroni conspired with Wildstein, another Port Authority Executive, to get even, Prosecutors say.

A month before the gridlock began, Kelly sent Wildstein an e-mail that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein responded: “Got it.” Baroni joined the plot to use Port Authority resources to cripple the roadways by closing two of three local access lanes to the world’s busiest bridge, prosecutors say. They agreed not to warn top officials in Fort Lee or at the Port Authority.


Sokolich tried frantically to reach Baroni and anyone in Christie’s office for an explanation of why the traffic debacle had befallen his borough. “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.

Baroni didn’t return the mayor’s phone calls because he was told “the study was important to Trenton and if the mayor was called back it would mess up the results,” Baldassare said.

The siege ended only when Patrick Foye, the Executive Director of the Port Authority and an Appointee of New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, ordered the lanes reopened on the fifth morning. Prosecutors charge that Baroni and Kelly, both 44, and Wildstein, 54, concocted a phony cover story that the lane closures were part of an unannounced traffic study.

A New Jersey State Legislature investigation lurched through that fall with inconclusive answers but mounting pressure on Baroni and Wildstein, who were forced to resign in November 2013. Then, in January 2014, with the release of Kelly’s “traffic problems” e-mail, Christie denied any knowledge of the plot and fired Kelly. Within days, Wildstein’s lawyer Alan Zegas said “evidence exists” tying Christie to the lane closures as they were happening.

Kelly and Baroni are charged with Conspiracy to Misuse Port Authority property, wire fraud, deprivation of Civil Rights and conspiracy against Civil Rights. They face as many as 20 years in prison on the most serious charge.

Wildstein pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts last year and is cooperating with Prosecutors. He’s set to be the Government’s star witness and to serve as the principal narrator in describing the plot and the cover-up to the jury, said Lee Vartan, a former Federal Prosecutor not involved in the case. “The defense will do everything they can to call his credibility into question,” Vartan said. “It’s probably their most important mission in the case. His testimony and how well he holds up on cross-examination is going to be at the heart of this case.”

It didn’t take long for Baldassare to try and discredit Wildstein. “David Wildstein is a vicious guy,” Baldassare told the jury in his opening statement. “He’s a bully,” Baldassare said before resorting to profanities to describe him. “The governor referred to David Wildstein as his fixer,” Baldassare said.











NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
Digg! StumbleUpon

1 comment:

Dencil Pumps said...

Thanks for sharing this article. Really glad to read this article and I will refer this site to my friends.

http://www.dencilpumps.com/aboutus.html