NEWARK – During the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane realignment at the center of the Bridgegate trial, Michael Drewniak was serving as the Press Secretary for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office. On Wednesday, Michael Critchley, defense attorney for defendant Bridget Kelly, called Drewniak to the stand to testify.
While Drewniak claims he “never” was told about the “punitive” nature of the lane changes testified to by former Port Authority employee David Wildstein, he did say that knowledge of the “traffic study” was fairly well known in the governor’s office.
Here are four claims Drewniak made during his testimony:
- Drewniak said he knew top Christie aides were aware of lane closures as early as October 18, 2013. According to Drewniak’s testimony, he knew that the likes of Kelly and former Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien knew about the September 9 to 12, 2013 lane closures just one month after they occurred. As evidence, Critchley presented an October 18 e-mail from Drewniak to then Christie Chief of Staff Kevin O’Dowd about “a new high level of sh*t hitting the fan” on the George Washington Bridge/Fort Lee issue. According to Drewniak that e-mail was in reference to the increasing interest New Jersey legislators had taken about the lane changes.
- The witness states that he spoke with Wiildstein on December 4, 2013 about the lane closures. Drewniak said that, during that meeting, Wildstein discussed concern that he would lose his job at the Port Authority over the lane closures despite the fact that others were aware of them as they occurred. Drewniak said Wildstein felt as though “he was taking all the blame.” Critchley confirmed with Drewniak that the press secretary confirmed with Wildstein that while others were “aware” of the lane closures, they were not “involved” in orchestrating those closures. Drewniak said that, at that meeting, Wildstein said that the governor was aware of the closures.
- Drewniak asked the governor if he knew. On September 17, 2013, Drewniak got an email from Wall Street Journal reporter Heather Haddon regarding the lane closures. In that email, Haddon asked if the governor had any knowledge of the lane closures. However, Drewniak said he approached Wildstein with the question instead of the governor. “I didn’t see any reason to bother the governor with this,” Drewniak said. In his response, Drewniak recommended Haddon seek guidance directly from the Port Authority and told her that, to his knowledge, towns impacted by traffic studies were sometimes not warned because it could “ruin the data.” The day after his December conversation with Wildstein, however, Drewniak testified that he asked the governor about the lane closures and if he had spoken to Kelly regarding them. He said he did not recall the governor responding.
- Drewniak personally advised on Port matters including hiring/firing. While defendant Bill Baroni testified earlier this week that the governor’s office had an influential Port Authority role, Drewniak on Wednesday spoke of his personal involvement in that role. According to his testimony, he communicated directly with a Port employee about potentially losing his despite the fact that he was working at the governor’s office and not the bi-state agency. “I suppose it could be something I would recommend,” Drewniak said of Port Authority employee’s firing status. Drewniak also said that, due to tension between the New York and New Jersey sides of the Port Authority, he would sometimes advise Port Authority employees to put out statements concerning Jersey issues without New York approval. He said that the New York side of the agency often did the same.
Drewniak gave testimony both under direct and during cross-examination. On Thursday, former Office of Intergovernmental Affairs employee Evan Ridley will take the stand. On Wednesday, Ridley began his testimony.