In Bridgegate Trial, Wildstein Says He Viewed Governor’s Office As His Boss

By Alyana Alfaro • 09/23/16

PolitickerNJ

Wildstein and his attorney appear in federal court on Friday.

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NEWARK – When former Port Authority employee David Wildstein took the stand on Friday to testify on the George Washington Bridge lane closures that occurred between Sept. 9 and Sept. 12, 2013, he claimed thatwhile he was working at the bi-state agency, he believed that he and former Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni reported to the office of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. According to Wildstein’s testimony, he regularly communicated with Bridget Kelly, the former deputy chief of staff for Christie. Both Baroni and Kelly are currently facing nine charges in connection with their involvement in the scandal. Wildstein has already pleaded guilty and is currently working with the prosecution as a cooperating witness.

The trial kicked off last Monday. During opening statements, the U.S. attorney’s office claimed that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening. With Wildstein acting as their primary witness, his testimony is central to their case and will be critical in the potential sentencing of both Baroni and Kelly. Wildstein faces up to 15 years in prison for his guilty plea.

During his Friday testimony, Wildstein was only questioned by attorneys from the U.S. attorney’s office. During that questioning, various email chains between Wildstein and Kelly were put into evidence. Among those emails was a chain between Kelly and Wildstein where he told her that the two should discuss the “Port Authority goody bag.” When questioned about the meaning of that phrase, Wildstein said that there were a number of things the Port Authority could give to various towns and administrations. He said that often items such as Port Authority grants, steel from Ground Zero, tours of the World Trade Center site or flags that flew over the World Trade Center site would be given to towns. According to Wildstein, the potential for an endorsement for Governor Christie was often a deciding factor on who would receive what from the “goody bag.”

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Chris Christie Protected Culprit in Bridge Lane Closings, Agency Head Testifies

NEWARK — The acknowledged culprit behind the closing of traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 was “protected by Chris Christie,” the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed during court testimony on Thursday.

That culprit, David Wildstein, is now the prosecution’s star witness against two former top officials in the administration of Mr. Christie, the governor of New Jersey. The officials are accused of closing access lanes at the bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., for refusing to endorse the governor’s re-election bid, then covering the plot up.

While Mr. Christie is not charged, prosecutors have said he knew about the lane closings as they were happening, contrary to what the governor has said in the three years since. The closed lanes caused gridlock in the town, stymying ambulances, commuters and schoolchildren for four days.

Lawyers for the two defendants have argued that their clients are scapegoats in a political game involving players with far more power.

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Murphy Gains Ground in Bergen County as NJ Prepares for 2017

By JT Aregood • 09/22/16

PolitickerNJ

Phil Murphy is a Democratic candidate for governor.

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In the early days of New Jersey’s 2017 gubernatorial election, only one of the anticipated frontrunners for the Democratic nomination has officially announced his candidacy. Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy has had the stage to himself for months now, amassing by slow increments the kinds of North Jersey endorsements that could cut into his rivals’ chances.

If Murphy is going to compete with Sweeney and Fulop, who have the ears of Democratic kingmakers like George Norcross in Camden County and Joe DiVincenzo in Essex, he will need a county line of his own to to net the roughly 25 percent of the vote that would win him the nomination.

Recent votes of confidence in all-important Bergen County could signal a sea change in influential party bosses’ willingness to put their resources behind the former Goldman Sachs executive. Following a rash of endorsements out of Bergen in the last week, a source told Observer that more endorsements won’t be far behind.

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Donald Trump Embraces Wider Use of Stop-and-Frisk by Police

Donald J. Trump on Wednesday called for the broad use of the contentious stop-and-frisk policing strategy in America’s cities, embracing an aggressive tactic whose legality has been challenged and whose enforcement has been abandoned in New York.

His support for the polarizing crime-fighting policy — which involves officers’ questioning and searching pedestrians — collides with his highly visible courtship of African-Americans, who have been disproportionately singled out by the tactic, data show.

For Mr. Trump, the timing was especially inauspicious: It came as police shootings of black people were once again drawing scrutiny and protest.

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Fort Lee Mayor Says He Lied About Bridgegate in Editorial

By Alyana Alfaro • 09/21/16

PolitickerNJ

Sokolich testified on Wednesday.

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NEWARK – Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich testified on Wednesday in the Bridgegate trial of former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni and former Governor Chris Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly. During his testimony, Sokolich admitted to lying in a November 2013 letter to the editor published in the Newark Star-Ledger.

In that letter, Sokolich said that he did not believe the George Washington Bridge lane closures had been an act of political retribution. However, his statements on Wednesday walked back on his earlier claims. During his testimony, the mayor said he felt all along that the closures came as a result of his failure to endorse Governor Christie for reelection.

“I was petrified of further retribution,” Sokolich said during his testimony to explain his motivation for lying in his letter. “I am not proud of what I did.”

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Fort Lee Mayor Testifies in Bridgegate Trial: ‘Someone Was Mad at Me’

By Alyana Alfaro • 09/20/16

PolitickerNJ

Sokolich leaves the U.S. District Court in Newark on Sept. 20, 2016.

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NEWARK – Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich took the stand on Tuesday as one of the first witnesses called to testify in the George Washington Bridge lane closure trial. During his testimony, Sokolich recounted his version of the events that led up to the Sept. 9 though Sept. 12, 2013 change in access of three lanes previously reserved for Fort Lee area residents to enter the GWB. That unexpected lane change spiraled into gridlock for the small, densely populated borough and created roads impassable to emergency vehicles, school buses, police and general commuters, according to Sokolich.

According to Port Authority officials at the time, the lane changes were part of a “traffic study.” However, two of Governor Chris Christie’s top associates—former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly and Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni—are currently facing charges that the lanes were closed as part of a conspiracy to enact political retribution against Sokolich for a failure to endorse Christie for his 2013 gubernatorial reelection campaign.

The line of questioning for Sokolich began when Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna had Sokolich recount events well before September 2013. During his testimony, attorneys had Sokolich chronicle his early relationship with Baroni before he was fired from the Port Authority following the lane closure scandal. The government presented a photograph depicting Sokolich and Baroni at a guided tour of the new World Trade Center site while it was still under construction. According to the mayor, prior to the events of September 2013, he had a “very good” relationship with Baroni and that the official had always been responsive.

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Chris Christie Knew About Bridge Lane Closings as They Happened, Prosecutors Say

NEWARK — Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey knew that three of his top officials were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him, federal prosecutors said on Monday.

The assertion was an unexpected and startling beginning to the trial of two former Christie administration officials charged with closing the lanes in 2013 and then covering it up. And it was a surprising claim because of the side of the courtroom it came from, as lawyers made opening statements.

Defense lawyers have long argued that Mr. Christie, a Republican, and his top advisers were well aware of the lane closings and that they directed the cover-up as they tried to protect the governor’s political aspirations — saying their clients were “thrown under the presidential bus,” as one lawyer argued on Monday.

But this was the first time a prosecutor had pointed a finger at Mr. Christie. And it directly contradicts the governor’s statements in the three years since the lanes were mysteriously closed, paralyzing the borough of Fort Lee, N.J.

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Christie bashes 'activist' judges, then runs to them in school fight | Editorial

on September 19, 2016

Gov. Chris Christie just announced he is taking his school fight to the state Supreme Court, where he's asking for several things that are reasonable, although the thrust of his lawsuit is not. Don't be fooled.  

 
His office is pitching this solely as an effort to give the governor authority to change the law so that districts aren't required to consider seniority above effectiveness during times of teacher layoffs, and can alter work rules in contracts that restrict teacher hours and duties.
 
These are sensible policy goals, but to ask the Supreme Court to strike down union contracts and reverse a Legislative policy decision would be an extraordinarily aggressive use of the courts. No state ruling has gone that far.

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What to Look For as Bridge Scandal Trial Opens

After three long years, it’s time for some traffic problems in … Newark.

That is where reporters are lining up at federal court on Monday morning, waiting for opening arguments in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing trial — the legal proceedings that stem from what must be one of the world’s most unlikely political scandals. (A refresher: Allies of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican, are accused of shutting down access lanes to the bridge for days in September 2013 to punish a Democratic mayor who had declined to endorse the governor.)

Even in a state accustomed to political corruption trials, this one is expected to be closely watched.

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Christie: 'My patience has run out' with N.J.'s urban 'failure factories'

By Claude Brodesser-Akner | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 15, 2016

BAYVILLE — Just hours after he announced that he'd was petitioning the state Supreme Court to scrap key provisions of the monumental school funding case Abbott v. Burke, Gov. Chris Christie drew sharp criticism from a retired special education teacher at a town hall meeting to promote his move.

The governor had opened the town hall in Bayville with a warning.

"Today, my patience has run out," Christie admonished the crowd, adding that he was not longer content to be "a bystander in this."

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