Republican Gov. Chris Christie is denying an allegation made in federal court Tuesday that he knew about a scheme to cause traffic jams for political payback in 2013.
The claim came in the second week of the so-called Bridgegate trial of two former Christie allies, who are accused of closing lanes to the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for not endorsing Christie for re-election in 2013.
“I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments. I had no role in authorizing it,” Christie said at an event in Trenton. “And there is no evidence ever put forward that I did.”
David Wildstein, the avowed mastermind of the traffic jams, testified Tuesday that Christie not only knew about the lane closures while they were happening but also joked about them with high-ranking officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Wildstein said that former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni, one of the defendants, told Christie about the progress of the scheme at a 9/11 memorial ceremony on the third day of the closures.
“Mr. Baroni said, ‘Governor, I have to talk to you about something,'” said Wildstein. “This was in a very sarcastic tone.”
Baroni went on to describe how the closure of two of three access lanes to the bridge had caused overwhelming traffic gridlock in Fort Lee, according to Wildstein.
When Baroni described how officials were ignoring Sokolich’s pleas for help with the traffic jams, Christie responded, “I would imagine that he wouldn’t be getting his phone calls returned,” Wildstein said.
Christie also allegedly joked about Wildstein’s involvement in the closures, referring to Wildstein by the pseudonym Wally Edge, which he had previously used as an anonymous political blogger.
Wildstein testified that Christie said, “‘I’m sure Mr. Edge would not be involved in anything that’s political’ and laughed.”
Christie has not been charged with a crime.
Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly have pleaded not guilty to their roles in the scheme.
Wildstein, who has pleaded guilty, will continue testifying on Wednesday.
On Monday, Wildstein said that he also told former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien and Port Authority commissioner William “Pat” Schuber about the lane closures in advance.
Stepien, through his attorney, denied any involvement.
Also this week, Wildstein detailed how officials at the Port Authority routinely used agency resources not only for political payback but also for political seduction.
For example, the Port Authority bought a marine terminal from Bayonne in 2013, Wildstein said, because Christie was hoping to secure the endorsement of the town’s Democratic mayor.
The Port Authority also spent money on parks in Essex County, Wildstein contended, to get in the good graces of county executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a powerful Democrat, who later endorsed Christie.
Rough and, at times, uncouth political activity is nothing new to Wildstein.
He testified that, as a 21-year-old volunteer for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Millicent Fenwick, he stole the suit jacket of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg before the two were about to debate.
Wildstein also used to purchase website domain names related to his “adversaries,” including Christie’s 2013 Democratic challenger state Sen. Barbara Buono and Port Authority executive director Patrick Foye.
“I liked people to think that I played hardball,” said Wildstein. “I liked people to think that I was aggressive.”