Meanwhile the other big story in New Jersey this week is the start of the Bridgegate trial, where both the defense and prosecution agree that GOP Gov. Chris Christie is the central figure as the man behind the scheme to punish Democrats in the state by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge.
Bill Baroni, 44, was Christie’s top appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the world’s busiest bridge. He is on trial alongside Bridget Anne Kelly, 44, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff.
The pair are accused of creating gridlock in Fort Lee over five mornings in September 2013 to punish the town’s mayor, a Democrat, for not endorsing the Republican governor’s reelection bid. They are charged with misusing federally funded property, wire fraud and depriving residents of their constitutional right to travel freely in the town. They face the possibility of years in jail and fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Not only was Christie told of the lane closures in the midst of gridlock on the Fort Lee side of the bridge, lawyers said during opening statements, he was so entrenched in the politics and activities of the Port Authority that he conferred considerable powers on an old schoolmate. That person, David Wildstein, who was named to an influential post at the agency by Christie, is expected to be the trial’s star witness after he negotiated a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
“When David Wildstein spoke, Governor Christie’s voice came out and everybody knew it,” said Michael Baldassare, Baroni’s attorney. He added that evidence in the trial will show that Wildstein “looks like a ventriloquist doll sitting on Christopher J. Christie’s lap.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna contradicted Christie’s repeated public statements that he knew nothing about the lane closures until months after they were found to have been politically motivated.
Christie did not respond to questions about the trial at a town hall meeting on education funding in Whippany on Monday.
Khanna said that Wildstein and Baroni boasted about the traffic problems to Christie three days into the week-long closures at a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony at the World Trade Center in 2013, celebrating the fact that they were ignoring pleas for help from Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
“The evidence will show that Baroni and Wildstein were so committed to their plan to punish Mayor Sokolich during those few minutes they had alone with the governor they bragged about the fact there were traffic problems in Fort Lee and Mayor Sokolich was not getting his calls returned,” Khanna said.
Bridgegate would have been the end of Christie's presidential aspirations anyway, even if he somehow had beaten Trump in the primaries. It's just that closing lanes on a bridge to punish a city for a week is so cartoonishly corrupt, petty, and vindictive that I can't honestly believe we're in the trial phase of this already. But apparently we have plenty of evidence to prosecute and a star witness, and as the trial begins, Chris Christie's political career looks to be coming to an end.
Couldn't have happened to a nicer friggin guy.