NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The head of the agency that operates the George Washington Bridge testified Wednesday that one of the defendants charged with causing gridlock for political retribution tried to persuade him to keep the traffic lanes closed, saying it was "important to Trenton."
Patrick Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, testified at the trial of former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni and Bridget Kelly, Republican Gov. Chris Christie's former deputy chief of staff.
They are charged with creating traffic jams by closing access lanes to the bridge in order to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, the town adjacent to the bridge, for not endorsing Christie in 2013.
Foye described ordering the reopening of the lanes on the morning of Sept. 13, 2013, after receiving reports of massive gridlock for days in Fort Lee. Later that day, he testified, he met twice with Baroni, Christie's top appointee to the agency.
Baroni asked him at both meetings to close the lanes again, Foye testified, because it was "important to Trenton." Foye said he took that to mean Christie's office, which was located there. Foye also testified Baroni told him Christie's senior staff had been briefed.
Christie isn't charged and has denied knowledge of the plan until well after it was put into action. However, prosecutors said in opening statements Monday that jurors would hear testimony that people bragged about the scheme to Christie on the third day of the four-day closures.
Earlier Wednesday, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich testified that he initially denied it was political payback because he was afraid the governor's administration would torpedo a building project in his city.
Sokolich wrote a letter to the editor of the Star-Ledger of Newark in November 2013, after the election and two months after the lane closures, saying media reports of political retaliation were "simply not true."
That clashed with his testimony Tuesday, when he said he had "strong suspicions" that was indeed the case when Baroni and others didn't respond to his repeated requests for help during the lane closures.
"Which was the lie?" Michael Critchley, Kelly's attorney, asked Sokolich on cross-examination.
"You just read it," Sokolich responded, referring to the letter.
Later, during redirect by the government, Sokolich explained, saying, "I was petrified of further retribution. I wanted to do everything possible to keep the borough of Fort Lee out of this story. That was what I viewed as my primary function as mayor. I wanted it to go way.
"I'm not proud of it," he added.