Testimony: GOP staff wanted Democrats off bridge authority
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The former bridge authority official testifying in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial said Wednesday that Republican Gov. Chris Christie's staff asked him to produce a list of authority employees so the Democrats could be purged.
David Wildstein testified Wednesday the request came two weeks after he started work at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010.
Wildstein, a high school acquaintance of Christie's and a former political blogger, was director of interstate capital projects, a position created for him.
He testified Wednesday in the trial of former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni and Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly. Both are charged with closing access lanes to the bridge to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie.
Wildstein testified on cross-examination that Bill Stepien, Christie's deputy chief of staff at the time, told him to produce a list of Port Authority employees appointed by previous Democratic administrations.
Asked by Baroni's attorney if the goal was a "cleansing" of Democrats, Wildstein responded it was.
The Port Authority operates bridges, tunnels, ports and airports in the New York City region. It has been accused of being a haven for governors of both states to send patronage hires.
'ON THE TEAM'
Wildstein testified Wednesday he expected to be a part of Christie's "political future" even after he resigned in the wake of revelations that the resulting traffic jam might have been politically motivated.
On direct questioning by the government, he said Christie senior staffers told him to resign in December 2013, three months after the September lane realignment at the bridge plunged Fort Lee into four days of gridlock. The plan was to punish Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie's re-election, Wildstein testified earlier.
Wildstein, who testified Tuesday that Christie was told about the traffic jam while it was underway, said he thought he would take some time off and then play a different role for the governor.
"I had been told by others I was still on the governor's team," he said. "I was told the governor was happy I'd stepped up and taken responsibility."
Wildstein said that assessment came from Stepien and political adviser Michael DuHaime.
Wildstein began cooperating with the government in early 2014 and pleaded guilty last year.
Wildstein has been on the stand since Friday testifying against Baroni and Kelly, who accuse Wildstein of conceiving and carrying out the scheme.
Wildstein testified Tuesday that Baroni told the governor about the bridge gridlock while at a 9/11 memorial event on the third day. He said Christie seemed happy about it and joked sarcastically that nothing political was going on with it.
Last week, Wildstein testified that Christie's office used the rich and powerful Port Authority to reward local officials whose endorsements were sought during the 2013 re-election campaign.
On Monday, Wildstein testified that he informed Stepien about the plot shortly before it was put into action. A Stepien lawyer denied it, and Stepien - who is now working for Donald Trump's presidential campaign - has not been charged.
Christie has had a busier-than-usual public schedule since the trial began, but he waited until after Wildstein dropped his bombshell on Tuesday to comment on the case.
"All kinds of stuff is going on up in a courtroom in Newark. I want to be really clear: I have not and will not say anything different than I've been saying since January 2014. No matter what is said up there, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments," Christie said.
The governor is on a list of potential witnesses in the case but said Tuesday that he has not yet been called to testify.
WHAT IT'S MEANT FOR CHRISTIE
The scandal helped sink Christie's White House campaign. While Christie once topped national polls ahead of the 2016 GOP primaries, he dropped out after New Hampshire and said recently that the scandal probably influenced Trump's decision not to pick him as his running mate.
In the 2 ½ years since the scandal broke, his critics have argued that even if didn't know about the traffic scheme, he created an atmosphere in which his underlings believed such tactics were acceptable.