Bridge defendant: Top officials knew traffic study story

In his first public comments about the scandal since his indictment almost 18 months ago, former Port Authority of NY and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni also contradicted the prosecution's star witness by offering a third version of when, and how much, Republican Gov. Christie learned about the lane realignment and subsequent gridlock in Fort Lee, the town adjacent to the bridge.

Bill Baroni, a former executive with the Port Authority of NY and New Jersey, is on the witness stand Monday. 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.

"David Wildstein discussed with governor the traffic study that was going on at the bridge in order to see if he would be able to move mainline traffic faster into the toll booths so that Gov. Christie could announce that he was able to fix the traffic problem at the upper level of the George Washington Bridge".

He told jurors Christie was told of traffic jams in Fort Lee during a September 11 memorial event at the World Trade Center in 2013.

That version of the conversation differs wildly from Wildstein's own account earlier in the trial.

Baroni says he ignored Sokolich because Wildstein told him to, as it would have messed up the traffic study. The government alleges that the lane closures were an act of political retaliation aimed at the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie's reelection. But Baroni testified Monday it was Wildstein who actually told Christie. Sokolich, a Democrat, said his borough found itself in gridlock on the first day of school after he refused entreaties by Christie's office to back the Republican governor's re-election. He said Wildstein told him if he answered Democratic Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich's pleas for help it would mean he was "wimping out" and would ruin the traffic study.

Baroni and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, were indicted in 2015 on charges of fraud and conspiracy involving the closure of several lanes on the George Washington Bridge. "You should go down there, testify, and tell the truth that that's what happened", Baroni recalled, adding, "And I believed David Wildstein".

"He said to me 'let me handle it.' I listened to him", Baroni said, shaking his head and jutting his jaw forward as he spoke to the jury. "I have regretted it ever since".

Baroni testified Monday people who were aware of his impending testimony or prepared him and provided materials included the Port Authority's chairman and Christie's chief attorney.

Another time, Cortes said, Christie praised Baroni for publicly berating the late U.S. Sen. Baroni said he was unaware of who that appropriate party was at the time of the lane closures.

"It became clear he was implementing specific issues and interests that the governor wanted addressed", Baroni said. That was an attempt to cover up the real motive, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors showed jurors a photo of Baroni and others carrying Wildstein in a chair at Wildstein's son's bar mitzvah. He defended his combative testimony to state lawmakers on November 25, 2013, when he insisted it was a traffic study. "I listened to David Wildstein".

No, Baroni said, he asked Wildstein to make sure Port Authority police were in communication with the local police in Fort Lee, Bergen County.

Baroni opened his testimony around 10 a.m. ET, telling jurors that he is an orphan, who was abandoned in Jacksonville, Fla., by an Irish mother and raised by a couple in Hamilton, N.J.

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.