By Dhara Patel, National News Writer
In September of 2013, as most New Jersey natives can remember, the unprecedented scandal had occurred: for four days, two of the three lanes of the George Washington Bridge were closed in Fort Lee rendering a gridlock. After a bit of speculation, it quickly became known that this was an act of vengeance orchestrated by the members of Governor Chris Christie’s inner circle. The inner circle operators were identified as Bill Baroni, David Wildstein, and Bridget Anne Kelly. The former two worked as Port Authority officials while the latter was Christie’s former deputy chief of staff.
According to the New York Times, once Christie was sworn into office, he started wooing Fort Lee’s mayor, Mark Sokolich. This was all part of an elaborate plan to secure Sokolich’s endorsement for Christie’s Republican nomination for the 2016 Presidential race. Christie assumed that in conjunction with his easy 2013 re-election victory, Sokolich would be give his endorsement. He was wrong. Sokolich, a Democrat, said he could not go as far as to vote for a Republican.
Political retaliation for the denial of the endorsement ensued when the three members closed down access to the George Washington Bridge. Sokolich was told to contact Baroni to open the lanes, however, according to his testimony, Baroni never replied. Sokolich left several voicemails and texts trying to find out who was mad at him.
Once the lanes were opened on September 13, 2013, ABC News reported that Port Authority’s Executive Director, Patrick Foye received a call from Baroni insisting the lanes be closed since “the issue was important to Trenton.” During the cross examination, Foye admitted that he made a false story to justify the traffic to the public. Foye further testifies that Christie’s senior team was debriefed on the lane closures. Apparently, for years, it was believed that Christie was unaware that his tight-knit circle had devised the plan; he denied he had any knowledge of what transpired.
Wildstein had already plead guilty to the federal crimes early on, when the Bridgegate scandal was unfolding. NJ.com wrote on Monday, September 19, 2016, that the prosecutors claimed that Wildstein will testify that Christie was aware of the plan when they were attending the 9/11 commemoration in Manhattan. Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna states that the evidence illustrates that Baroni and Wildstein were unable to contain their excitement of their retribution plot and that “they bragged about the traffic problems in Fort Lee and Sokolich was not getting his calls returned.”
However, the lying does not stop there. New York Daily News reports that Sokolich wrote to The Star-Ledger on November 14, 2013 denying that the lanes were closed due to his refusal to endorse Christie. He further claimed that he was never approached by the governor to for endorsement. Michael Critchley, the defense attorney for Kelly, was quick to point out the discrepancy between Sokolich’s statement and court testimony taken under oath. Critchley asked whether he lied and Sokolich answered in the affirmative. The mayor explained that he was trying to keep the residents of Fort Lee safe; he was terrified that there would be further revenge if he blamed Christie.
The continuing litigation further discovered unknown facts such as Baroni was an FBI informant between 2006 and 2010. The FBI recruited him to aid in discovering background on lobbyists and their interaction with the legislators. Moreover, Wildstein lied on his application for the Port Authority claiming he has a degree from George Washington University.
The trial is still ongoing, and more information continues to be released through its proceedings.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 27th print edition.
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