Bridge authority reviewing trial testimony, seeking changes

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2016 4:02 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The authority that runs the George Washington Bridge said Thursday it is reviewing testimony from the recent criminal trial of two former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who were convicted of fraud and misusing the bridge in what prosecutors say was a political revenge plot.

Former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey executive Bill Baroni was convicted of misusing the bridge to purposely cause traffic jams. Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, also was convicted. A second former Port Authority employee, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and testified the gridlock was created to punish a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse the Republican governor's re-election bid.

The agency has been reviewing testimony and has asked its own lawyers as well as outside counsel to compare the allegations with internal bylaws and policies over the next 90 days, Port Authority Chairman John Degnan said.

Degnan didn't specify what actions would be taken if it was concluded violations had occurred.

Beyond the criminal charges that formed the basis for the trial, other testimony reflected unflatteringly on the Port Authority, a powerful bistate agency that operates New York-area bridges, tunnels, ports, airports and the World Trade Center. The George Washington Bridge, among the world's busiest, links Fort Lee, New Jersey, and New York City.

Wildstein testified that he and other Christie subordinates used the agency as a source of political favors doled out to Democratic mayors whose endorsements were sought. Current Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye testified that he approved the publication of a news release about the traffic jams that he knew to be false. Wildstein also testified that at least two other Port Authority officials, neither of whom was charged, knew the reason for the traffic jams ahead of time.

Christie has denied wrongdoing and wasn't charged, but testimony by Kelly, Baroni and Wildstein all cast doubt on the governor's account of when — and how much — he knew about the scheme.

Degnan also said Thursday he will seek to change rules that allow agency employees to not cooperate with internal investigations.

The specific rule, known as Rule 3, allows employees to refuse to answer questions from the agency's Office of Inspector General without disciplinary penalties.

"It frustrates the OIG to no end," Degnan said. "There's no reason to perpetuate that rule."

Degnan and Foye both said Thursday that the rule likely didn't hamper the Port Authority's initial probe into the lane closures in late 2013 because that investigation became absorbed by the federal investigation.