Gov. Chris Christie was miles away from the Bridgegate trial. But his top appointee to the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, withstood withering cross examination. Cameras are not allowed, but NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was there.
Aron: Bill Baroni endured a grilling today.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes had Baroni back pedaling all day.
Cortes produced phone logs that showed Baroni and conspiracy mastermind David Wildstein up to their elbows together.
On the Sunday before the lane closures on the GW Bridge, Baroni and Wildstein spoke on the phone six times.
On the first day of the lane closures, they spoke 11 times.
On Tuesday, six times; Wednesday, eight times; Thursday, five times; and Friday, five times.
In all, said Cortes, they spoke 333 times that month of September 2013, 256 times in October and for the year more than 2,700 times.
That doesn’t take into account their texts and emails.
The implication was clear: how could Baroni not know the lane closures were about retaliation against the Fort Lee mayor?
Gov. Christie didn’t fare so well in the cross examination of Baroni.
He was asked about a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington where Christie sent him to embarrass Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Christie critic on the ARC Tunnel issue.
Cortes: “Didn’t Chris Christie tell you to go down there and punish Frank Lautenberg to his face?”
Baroni: “Gov. Christie did tell me to go down there.”
Cortes: “You felt bad about doing that to Sen. Lautenberg, didn’t you?”
Cortes: “But the governor was happy?”
Baroni: “He called me his attack dog.”
Testimony shifted to Bill Lavin, then president of the state firefighters’ union, who criticized Christie on the radio over pension funding.
Baroni said Christie told him to call Lavin.
Baroni: “He said call Bill Lavin and tell him the governor of New Jersey tells him to go f— himself.”
Baroni went on: “I said, governor, Bill Lavin and I are friends. We like each other.”
To which he claims Christie said, “Bill, do you like your job?”, according to the testimony that is.
Baroni and Wildstein were so close, the prosecutor said that they had their own language.
“Wally this” meant look into it, a reference to Wildstein’s old pseudonym Wally Edge.
“The Serbian” meant Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who’s actually of Croatian heritage.
Baroni also portrayed Christie as a micromanager.
He said he believed the governor personally canceled a meeting between Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Port Authority Chair David Samson.
He said he believed Christie personally signed off on sensitive political matters.
A month after the lane closure, the Port Authority held its October board meeting.
Questions about the traffic nightmare were everywhere.
Baroni said he texted Wildstein that day, “This could be my last meeting.”
Wildstein texted back: “F— them.”
Baroni wrote back, “That’s your job.”
Cortes then jumped in: “This is the same guy who assured you the lane closure was not punitive, right?”
“Yes,” said Baroni.
Throughout the day, Baroni stuck to his account of the lane closures, which is that he thought they were part of a legitimate traffic study.
But Cortes accused him of lying to the Assembly Transportation Committee that fall and continuously mixing up his stories as the scandal unfolded.
Baroni got beaten up today.