NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A self-described conspirator in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing case testified Wednesday that he expected to stay in Republican Gov. Chris Christie's "political future" even after he resigned in the wake of revelations that the resulting traffic jam might have been politically motivated.
On direct questioning by the government, David Wildstein said he was told by Christie senior staffers to resign in December 2013, three months after the September lane realignment at the bridge plunged the town of Fort Lee into four days of gridlock. The plan was to punish Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing Christie's re-election, Wildstein testified earlier.
Wildstein, who testified Tuesday that Christie was told about the traffic jam while it was underway, said he thought he would take some time off and then play a different role for the governor after he resigned as executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees New York-area bridges and tunnels.
"I had been told by others I was still on the governor's team," he said. "I was told the governor was happy I'd stepped up and taken responsibility."
Wildstein said that assessment came from Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and political adviser Michael DuHaime.
Wildstein began cooperating with the government in early 2014 and pleaded guilty last year.
Wildstein has been on the stand since Friday testifying against Bill Baroni, Christie's top appointee to the authority that runs the bridge, and Bridget Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff.
Both say Wildstein conceived and carried out the scheme in September 2013. The bridge, one of the world's busiest, spans the Hudson River and connects New Jersey with New York City.
Wildstein testified Tuesday that Baroni told the governor about the bridge gridlock while at a 9/11 memorial event on the third day. He said Christie seemed happy about it and joked sarcastically that nothing political was going on with it.
Last week, Wildstein testified that Christie's office used the rich and powerful Port Authority to reward local officials whose endorsements were sought during the 2013 re-election campaign.
On Monday, Wildstein testified that he informed Stepien about the plot shortly before it was put into action. A Stepien lawyer denied it, and Stepien — who is now working for Donald Trump's presidential campaign — has not been charged.
Christie has had a busier-than-usual public schedule since the trial began, but he waited until after Wildstein dropped his bombshell on Tuesday to comment on the case.
"All kinds of stuff is going on up in a courtroom in Newark. I want to be really clear: I have not and will not say anything different than I've been saying since January 2014. No matter what is said up there, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments," Christie said.
The governor is on a list of potential witnesses in the case but said Tuesday that he has not yet been called to testify.
WHAT IT'S MEANT FOR CHRISTIE
The scandal helped sink Christie's White House campaign. While Christie once topped national polls ahead of the 2016 GOP primaries, he dropped out after New Hampshire and said recently that the scandal probably influenced Trump's decision not to pick him as his running mate.
In the 2 1/2 years since the scandal broke, his critics have argued that even if didn't know about the traffic scheme, he created an atmosphere in which his underlings believed such tactics were acceptable.