Government's star witness testifies in BridgeGate trial

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N.J. Burkett has the latest details.

A former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official who pleaded guilty in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case has appeared in court as the government's star witness.

David Wildstein took the stand Friday in the trial of two former allies of Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly -- testifying at length about his unflinching loyalty to Christie and referring to him repeatedly as the "one and only constituent." He described Baroni, whom he is testifying against, as "one of the closest friends I've ever had."

Wildstein's testimony focused largely on how the Port Authority was seen by the governor's office as a "goody bag" of patronage, grants and favors to be lavished on politicians who stood to help Christie, and whether they would endorse his reelection was a factor in who got what.

Wildstein portrayed himself and Christie's appointees at the agency as self-appointed puppets of the governor, who sought his approval and his praise at every possible turn. He told jurors that he and Baroni, the Port Authority deputy executive director, sought approval for virtually everything they did, in matters both large and small, from the governor's office. Those approvals, he testified, often came from Kelly.

He said his job at the Port Authority was to be "the bad cop," to advance Christie's agenda at all costs, and that Baroni, who hired him at the Port Authority, liked to be the "good cop."

"He felt that my personality, which is not always pleasant, would be helpful to him," he testified.

Wildstein pleaded guilty last year to orchestrating traffic jams in 2013 to punish a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse Christie. Christie, who went to high school with Wildstein, wasn't charged.

During opening statements, prosecutors said Wildstein will testify he bragged to Christie about the lane closures on the third day of the four-day shutdown. Christie didn't comment on the allegation this week, but his office pointed to a statement he gave in 2014, denying he knew about the plot while it was ongoing.

The jury on Friday morning heard from from Matthew Mowers, a senior campaign operative for Trump who worked for Gov Christie from 2010 through 2013.

Mowers testified about an elaborate effort he undertook with others to keep careful records of favors offered by Christie's office and the political leaders and others who accepted or declined them. These spreadsheets also indicated whether the leaders were likely to endorse Christie's reelection.

He testified that Kelly was in constant contact with the staff in this regard, and that after several discussions he had with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, the mayor declined to endorse Christie. He testified that the mayor told him he "wished he had the balls to do it," and that if he were governor, he would take many of the same positions. Sokolich, according to Mowers, said he feared retribution by the Democratic establishment if he were to endorse Christie.
Mowers testified that in a phone call in early September 2013, Kelly asked him if he'd heard anything further from the mayor.

"Sokolich not happening?" she asked.

When he told her he had not heard from the mayor, she answered, "Okay, that's all I need to know."

The lane closures happened shortly afterward.
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Information from N.J. Burkett and The Associated Press
Related Topics:
politicsbridgegatechris christietrialFort LeeNewark
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