Bill Baroni, a former executive with the Port Authority of NY and New Jersey, is testifying Monday.
The former Port Authority executive, charged with using the world’s busiest bridge as a tool of political retribution, took the stand in his own defense Monday, maintaining he knew nothing about a plot to punish the mayor of Fort Lee.
“David Wildstein and I have a very different definition of friendship, because I don’t view a friend as someone who would lie to me over and over and over”, Baroni said. Baroni said that despite the fact Wildstein knew of the real reason for his trip overseas, Wildstein knowing lied to him by claiming that he had been subpoenaed when, in reality, he had just been invited to testify with the legislature.
Baroni: “David Wildstein discussed with the governor the traffic study…and how it might enable him to announce he had fixed the traffic problem at the George Washington Bridge”. Defense lawyer Michael Baldassare said in his opening statement last month that Baroni “was told that the study was important to Trenton and if the mayor was called back it would mess up the results”. It was an apparent act of political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for not supporting Christie during his reelection campaign in 2013.
Baroni also pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, even throwing Wildstein under the bus in court Monday.
Instead, Baroni said the snapshot captured the moment they were having a laugh at Cuomo’s expense for “showing up on a motorcycle with Billy Joel”. Wildstein said he and Baroni agreed on the phony cover story of a traffic study to hide the punitive plot. He and Bridget Kelly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, are in the fifth week of their fraud and conspiracy trial.
“He was below me was on the flow chart”, Baroni said, “but he reported to Trenton”. “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Absolutely not'”. “I have regretted it ever since”. Wildstein anxious that if Baroni called back Sokolich, he would “wimp out” and tell Sokolich about their secret “traffic study” that gridlocked Fort Lee, Baroni testified on his first day on the witness stand.
Prosecutors continue their cross-examination of Baroni on Tuesday, as trial continues before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton in Newark.
So the trial is becoming a he-said, he-said between Wildstein and Baroni.
“That’s your term, sir”, Baroni replied, saying it became clear to him over the course of his tenure at the Port Authority that he was not supposed to contact the governor directly.
Baroni explained that at the time, Christie’s “best friend” and top board appointee at the agency, chairman David Samson, was furious that Foye had reversed a “New Jersey” project.
They said that in November 2013, shortly before Baroni testified before a legislative panel probing the lane closures, Baroni called them into his office and said that he was going to tell legislators that the agency’s police department requested the lane closures.
When Mara asked why they were all smiling in the photo, Baroni said they were probably discussing Gov. Cuomo of NY arriving at the event on a motorcycle with Billy Joel and 300 other riders.
For example, when he received a letter from Sokolich on September 12 complaining about “complete gridlock” and wondering whether “punitive overtones” were associated with the lane closures, Baroni said he confronted Wildstein face-to-face.
Baroni’s measured performance Monday stood in stark contrast to his combative appearance before the committee in 2013, when he came under sustained interrogation from a panel of angry and deeply skeptical lawmakers.
Baroni put a Sokolich meeting on the schedule without intending to keep it. He said he had no control over Wildstein or ability to fire him.