LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Port Authority Commissioner Testifies at Bridgegate Trial

In the Bridgegate trial, instead of putting Gov. Chris Christie’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly on the stand, her attorneys tried to portray the traffic troubles on the George Washington Bridge as way above her pay grade. Cameras are not allowed in federal courtrooms, but NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz was there.

Cruz: Bridget Kelly may be the must-see testimony in this trial but her attorney, Michael Critchley, is building up to that pivotal appearance by continuing to hammer away at the state’s key witness — David Wildstein.

Even before the jury was seated today, Critchley had to beat back prosecution motions to exclude testimony from Port Authority Commissioner Scott Rechler.

Immediately, Critchley got Rechler to share his thoughts about Wildstein.

Critchley: “You said he was a negative for the Port Authority.”

Rechler says, “I think I used the word cancer. He was a political operative and we were working to remove politics from the Port Authority … He would seek to intimidate employees at the Port Authority and manipulate situations at the Port Authority.”

Later adding: “He created a culture that sent fear throughout Port Authority staff. Many of the professional staff, there for decades, feared for their jobs if they didn’t do what he said.”

Rechler testified he went to Bill Baroni — then deputy executive director — and David Samson — then Port Authority chairman — in an effort to get Wildstein removed. It was an effort, he said, that lasted over a year.

“Were you of the opinion that someone was protecting him?” asked Critchley.

Rechler says, “It was unclear to me that there was any incentive by David Samson to remove David Wildstein.”

Critchley asks, “What do you mean?”

Rechler says, “If there was an agenda by New Jersey … we viewed David Wildstein, Bill Baroni and David Samson as key to that agenda.”

Rechler testified that Samson constantly complained about Executive Director Pat Foye — a New York appointee — because he thought Foye was leaking information to the press in order to gain leverage in negotiations.

In an email to Rechler the week after the lane closures, Samson writes: “I am told the executive director leaked [to the Wall Street Journal] a story about the Fort Lee issue. Very unfortunate for New York/New Jersey relations.”

Adding the following day: “He’s playing in traffic … more evidence of reckless, counterproductive behavior.”

Finally, after many objections from the prosecution, Rechler testified that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told him about conversations he had with Gov. Christie wherein Christie related Samson’s complaints about Foye meddling in New Jersey politics during an election.

Both governors have denied this. The prosecution called it hearsay.

And Critchley, he called it evidence that the lane closures were part of the discussion among the top echelon, and that his client — Bridget Kelly — was far from the decision maker the prosecution contends.

The trial continues tomorrow with testimony from Christie campaign consultant Mike DuHaime, and before the end of the day, possibly Bridget Kelly herself.