Gov. Andrew Cuomo today dismissed as “gossip” claims that he colluded with his New Jersey counterpart, Chris Christie, to conceal the real reason for the disruptive closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge—but claimed he could not recall how he first learned of the “Bridgegate” incident, now the subject of a federal trial.
Addressing the press after an oddly-timed but unrelated announcement regarding bridges and tunnels controlled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Cuomo denied or dodged all allegations former Christie operative David Wildstein made on the stand in Newark yesterday. Wildstein testified that it was his “understanding” from his former superior Bill Baroni—a Christie appointee now facing federal charges—that that the New York and New Jersey governors colluded to blame the shut down of lanes headed into Fort Lee on a fraudulent “traffic study.”
“It didn’t happen,” Cuomo insisted. “It’s sort of irrefutable. It’s black and white. His point is ‘I heard a story.'”
“That’s gossip he’s passing on,” he added.
The George Washington Bridge belongs to the Port Authority, to which both the governors of New Jersey and New York appoint directors and commissioners. The study in question never got released, but formed the basis of testimony Baroni delivered at a 2013 hearing of the New Jersey State Legislature—a hearing Cuomo-appointed Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who ordered the lanes re-opened, did not attend.
Wildstein asserted yesterday that Cuomo had arranged for Foye to “stand down.”
“There were no conversations with the governor about that,” Cuomo told the Observer, noting that it was Foye who first probed the motivation for the traffic obstructions. “Pat Foye didn’t stand down. Pat Foye stood up.”
Cuomo also noted that Wildstein has confessed to conspiring to restrict vehicular access to Fort Lee as a political payback to the mayor there, who had refused to endorse Christie for re-election in 2013. Asked how he first learned of the bridge blockage, the New York governor today insisted he couldn’t recall.
“I’d have to go back and look,” he said. Cuomo has previously claimed he discovered the situation through press reports.
Neither Cuomo nor Christie faces any formal charges of wrongdoing. But each now finds himself besieged with scandal.
Wildstein has testified Christie was aware of the deliberate gridlock on the New York-New Jersey span, and was “giddy” with laughter about it when he found out.
Cuomo, meanwhile, faces two separate scandals involving his close associates and alleged corruption in his economic development plans. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has charged one of his closest confidantes, Joseph Percoco, with taking bribes from companies that contributed to the governor’s campaign in exchange for getting state agencies to loosen up with subsidy dollars.
Bharara has also accused Alain Kaloyeros, once the central figure in Cuomo’s programs to rejuvenate upstate New York, of rigging state request-for-proposals so only “friends of the administration”—i.e., political donors—could qualify.