NEWARK – During Wednesday testimony in the Bridgegate trial, an attorney for the defense accused the executive director of the Port Authority of a failure to act in a timely manner during the Sept. 9 through Sept. 12, 2013 period when three local access lanes of the George Washington Bridge were funneled into one causing crippling gridlock in the New Jersey borough of Fort Lee.
Michael Baldassare, attorney for defendant Bill Baroni, claimed that Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye knew about the lane closures early on the the week but waited until Friday to fix the situation for political gain.
“You let it continue so you could swoop in … and act like the hero? Isn’t that what happened?” Baldassare asked Foye. However, Foye denied the claims and reiterated statements made earlier in his testimony that he found out about the closures in the evening of Sept. 12 and immediately jumped into action. Foye said that he spoke with George Washington Bridge Manager Robert Durando as early as 6 a.m. on Friday September 13. Attorneys presented evidence that Foye sent a long email directive at 7:44 a.m. Sept. 13 reversing the lane changes.
“To be clear, I will get to the bottom of this abusive decision which violates everything this agency stands for,” Foye said in his email reversing the lane shifts.
According to Foye, he “was surprised” he had not learned about the lane closures until September 12. He said that his awareness of the incident came because reporters contacted the Port Authority press office to inquire about the closures.
During his testimony, Foye admitted to signing off on a false press statement drafted by then Deputy Executive Director Baroni and former Port Authority Employee David Wildstein. In that statement, the Port Authority claimed that the lane closures had been part of a traffic study. Foye said he was “skeptical” of that statement but let the release proceed.
“I saw this as Bill Baroni’s mess, David Wildstein’s mess. I was okay with it going out,” Foye said. The executive director also told attorney Michael Critchley that the lie was “immaterial.”
Additionally, attorneys explored Foye’s strained relationship with Wildstein. According to his testimony, Foye thought Wildstein “abusive and untrustworthy.” Foye also said that he felt Wildstein was behind the lane closures based on conversations he had with Durando and Baroni. Wildstein has pleaded guilty in the Bridgegate matter. He is now working with he prosecution as a cooperating witness.
Earlier in his testimony, Foye said that upon his decision to reverse the lane closures, Baroni approached him asking for the lanes to be re-closed. According to Foye, Baroni said that the issue was important to Trenton. Foye said that he took “Trenton” to mean the governor’s office. On the first day of the trial, the prosecution claimed that Christie knew about the lane closures as they were happening. The governor has routinely denied any knowledge of the incident.
“He asked that they be re-closed,” said Foye of Baroni. “I said ‘no.’ Period.”
In addition to Baroni, former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelly is also on trial. Critchley is her attorney. Foye’s testimony in the Bridgegate case will continue in the U.S. District Court in Newark on Thursday.