Port Authority chief says Bridgegate culprit was protected by Christie [updated]

David Wildstein

David Wildstein

The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey testified in federal court in Newark that the man behind the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in 2013 was protected by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

David Wildstein “was protected by Chris Christie, correct?” said defense attorney Michael Critchley.

“Yes,” said Foye, after some hesitation.

Wildstein has pleaded guilty to causing massive traffic jams in Fort Lee to punish the borough’s Democratic mayor who did not endorse Christie for re-election.

The two defendants, former Port Authority deputy executive director Bill Baroni and former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, have pleaded not guilty.

Foye said Thursday he believed “[Wildstein] was the culprit” not long after the closures in September 2013, but he didn’t interview him for an internal Port Authority investigation because of Wildstein’s allies in Trenton and because Foye said Wildstein was known at the agency for being “abusive” and untrustworthy.

“I had no reason to believe I’d get the truth,” said Foye.

But the agency chief also admitted that he approved telling reporters in the aftermath of the traffic jams that the lane closures had been part of a traffic study, when Foye knew at the time that there was no study.

Defense attorneys attempted to show that Foye deliberately allowed the false public narrative of the traffic study created by Baroni and Wildstein to continue in order to embarrass New Jersey officials at the agency.

“You allowed that statement to go out?” said Critchley, referring to an agency response to a Wall Street Journal inquiry. “To an international publication? A false statement?”

“In an immaterial way, yes, sir,” replied Foye.

Defense attorneys also pressed John Ma, Foye’s chief of staff, who testified that he called a reporter for the Bergen Record on the fourth night of the closures and told him off the record that he didn’t think there was a traffic study.

“The reason I made the off the record call was to have that reporter ask more questions and keep digging on this situation,” said Ma.

When asked by defense attorney Michael Baldassare if it was Port Authority policy to issue a public statement and then privately tell reporters a contradictory story, Ma said, “it was probably not proper protocol.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.