October 04, 2016 - 5:04 PM
NEWARK, N.J. - A onetime top ally of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the governor and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo discussed releasing a false report to tamp down questions over the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal, the prosecution's key witness testified Tuesday.
David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in the gridlock scheme and is co-operating with prosecutors, said former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman David Samson told him the governors discussed the idea in October 2013. The report would have attributed the lane closures to a traffic study, covering up the true reason for the closures: political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee for failing to endorse Christie's 2013 re-election, Wildstein testified.
The report was never issued.
Instead, Bill Baroni testified before lawmakers in November 2013, two months after the lane closures, that they were part of a traffic study.
Baroni, who served as Christie's top appointed staff aide at the Port Authority, and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, are on trial facing wire fraud and civil rights charges. They have pleaded not guilty.
Wildstein said the idea for the report came as news reporters began to ask questions about the lane closures, which gridlocked the town of Fort Lee for four days.
"My understanding was that (Republican) Gov. Christie and (Democratic) Gov. Cuomo had discussed this," Wildstein said under cross-examination Tuesday, according to The Record, adding he was told the information by Samson. "My understanding at the time was that it would put an end to this issue."
Cuomo spokesman John Kelly, who isn't related to Bridget Kelly, denied the conversation between governors took place and criticized Wildstein as a "felon spinning a tale."
"It's just false and delusional," Kelly said.
New York Republicans pounced on the allegation. Cuomo's unsuccessful 2014 GOP challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, said it warrants the resignation of both Cuomo and Christie. State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox noted that former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco currently faces federal charges stemming from an unrelated investigation into alleged bid-rigging and bribery. Percoco's attorney has said his client is innocent.
"Today's key eyewitness testimony that implicates Gov. Cuomo in the coverup of Bridgegate is another example of his political thuggery at the expense of New Yorkers," Cox said in a statement.
Messages left with Christie's office Tuesday weren't immediately returned. Christie has not been charged and has said he did not authorize the closures or play a role in covering them up.
Wildstein also testified Tuesday that Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye, a Cuomo appointee, was to "sign off" on the false report. Foye's attorney, Eric Corngold, disputed Wildstein's testimony.
"Foye never had any such conversation or was given any such direction by the governor or by any of his staff," he told The Associated Press.
A message left with Samson's attorney hasn't been returned. Samson pleaded guilty in another case to using his role as Port Authority chairman to influence United Airlines to reinstate a money-losing route closer to his vacation home and is awaiting sentencing.
Wildstein, a former executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees New York-area bridges and tunnels, testified earlier that Baroni told Christie about the traffic jams as they were happening and said the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee wasn't happy that he wasn't getting his calls returned.
Associated Press writer David Klepper in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016