The governors of New York and New Jersey were involved in covering up Bridgegate early on, star witness David Wildstein said in federal court in Newark Tuesday.
Wildstein testified last week that he and defendant Bill Baroni bragged to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about the lane closures while they were going on.
In federal court Tuesday, Wildstein fingered New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well, saying it was his “understanding that Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo discussed” putting together a false report as early as October 2013, shortly after the lane closures, saying “that the New Jersey side accepted responsibility.”
The idea was that the New York appointees of the Port Authority would sign off on the cover story as a “traffic study” gone awry, and that would be that.
By that point in time, senior officials on both sides of the Hudson River knew there had been no “traffic study.” High-ranking Christie and Cuomo staffers were in communication about the lane closures, Wildstein testified. Wildstein said he understood that Cuomo instructed his top appointee, Pat Foye, to “lay off” Christie.
According to Wildstein, this report became the basis for Bridgegate defendant Bill Baroni’s subsequent false testimony to the Legislature. The report was not otherwise released. The timing is key: the alleged collusion between the governors came months before Cuomo said he only knew “basically what has been in the newspapers.”
But as WNYC has previously reported, Cuomo’s highest-level aides were in close contact with senior Port Authority officials as the cover-up unfolded.
John Kelly, a spokesperson for Cuomo, vehemently pushed back on Wildstein’s testimony: “No such conversation between the governors happened” Kelly said in an emailed statement. “In fact no report of any kind was ever done, and whatever the admitted Bridgegate architect thought or dreamt about New York’s involvement has no basis in fact. Anyone can say anything, especially a convicted felon spinning a tale, but it’s just false and delusional.”
For his part,Christie has repeatedly said Wildstein is not telling the truth.
And Foye’s attorney, Eric Corngold, said: “Mr. Foye never had any such conversation or was given such direction by the Governor or by any by any member of his staff.”
But Wildstein, who has been largely cool under oath, testified defendant Baroni and former Port Authority chairman David Samson, Christie’s close friend and mentor, discussed the false report with him. He said they told him Pat Foye, the Cuomo appointee who reversed the closures, would be forced to sign it.
“You felt that Foye would sign it because you believed Albany had told Foye to, quote, lay off Christie,” defense attorney Michael Critchley asked Wildstein on the fourth day of Wildstein’s cross examination. Wildstein acknowledged yes, that was his understanding.
The report was passed around in hard copy, as the Port Authority had been instructed by Christie administration officials not to use email, Wildstein testified.
There’s evidence buttressing Wildstein’s claims. As WNYC revealed in July, a senior New York official emailed the vice chairman, Scott Rechler, a Cuomo appointee, asking: “Based on your conversations with HG, what do you think of me following up with Baroni on how they want to get out of Fort Lee, and what role we can play?”
“HG” refers to Howard Glaser, then Cuomo’s right-hand man.
Rechler approved the conversation, the emails show.
Foye put a stop to the lane closures when he found out about them. But he previously acknowledged on the stand that he lied when he went along with the cover story that the lane closures were a “traffic study.”
“It was immaterial,” Foye testified.
During Foye’s testimony, evidence was introduced that then-Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler, a Cuomo appointee, discussed using New York’s silence on the lane closures as leverage for Cuomo to extract money and concessions from the agency’s New Jersey board members.