NEWARK – Former Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority Bill Baroni took the stand in Newark on Monday for the first time during the weeks-long Bridgegate trial. Baroni’s testimony featured a different sequence of events leading to the realignment of three local access lanes of the George Washington Bridge from September 9 to 12, 2013. While earlier testimony from David Wildstein, the witness for the prosecution who implicated Baroni, featured the former state senator as an integral part of the plot to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for a failure to endorse New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for re-election, Baroni maintained that he was unaware anything going on other than the traffic study Wildstein admits to having concocted as a coverup for the punitive nature of the lane changes and the subsequent gridlock in the GWB host community.
Here are eight claims Baroni made during his first day of testimony:
- The governor’s office had control over statements released by the Port Authority. According to Baroni, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s office signed off on press statements released by the Port Authority’s New Jersey side, despite the fact that the Port Authority is a bi-state agency. Baroni said that Wildstein would generally route the communications to the governor’s office through Bridget Kelly, the governor’s former Deputy Chief of Staff and co-defendant along with Baroni. According to Baroni, however, he did not believe that Kelly was responsible for final approval of any Port Authority communications but rather routed them through the governor’s office to the appropriate party. Baroni said he was unaware of who that appropriate party was at the time of the lane closures.
- Baroni put a Sokolich meeting on the schedule without intending to keep it. In the week following the lane closure scandal, Baroni set up a meeting with Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich to discuss the lane realignment in person. However, according to Baroni, since the office of the governor had not confirmed that the meeting could proceed, it was likely that the meeting would have been cancelled by Baroni at the last minute. The meeting never occurred due to a cancellation from Sokolich. According to Baroni, he was “frustrated” that he was having difficulty getting approval to meet with Sokolich.
- Baroni was in the process of looking for his birth mother in Ireland at the time of the closures and cancelled a trip there in order to give legislative testimony. Two months after the lane closures of the GWB, Baroni was planning on traveling to Ireland in search of his biological mother (he was adopted as a young child). However, according to Baroni, he received a call from Wildstein as he was about to leave for his trip claiming that he had been subpoenaed to testify at a legislative hearing. Baroni said that despite the fact Wildstein knew of the real reason for his trip abroad, Wildstein knowing lied to him by claiming that he had been subpoenaed when, in reality, he had just been invited to testify with the legislature.
- Baroni said he thought the traffic study was real and his testimony to the legislature was accurate. While Wildstein said Baroni knew of the punitive nature of the lane closures, Baroni said that he believed the traffic study was legitimate, especially after he was given the data that later became his legislative testimony. Baroni also said that he spoke with President of the Port Authority PBA Paul Nunziato and Vice President Mike DeFilippis before going into testimony. Baroni reinforced statements the two made during their testimony that they had not broached a safety concern with Wildstein that later led to the study. Baroni said that he decided to include the claim that the Port Authority PBA officers raised the issue because Wildstein assured him they had. Baroni said he prepared extensively for the hearing, especially because he and Chairman John Wisniewski did not get along and he “knew” he was “walking into a bad hearing.”
- There was an ongoing feud between former Port Chairman David Samson and Executive Director Pat Foye. At the time of the closures, the Chairman of the Port Authority was from New Jersey. The Director was from New York. According to Baroni, the two had a “lack of a relationship to say to least.” The former deputy said that after Foye issued a September 13, 2013 e-mail reversing the lane closures, Samson told him to “punch Pat Foye in the face” and get the lane changes back in place. While Baroni and Foye did not have a physical altercation, Baroni did ask Foye to allow the “study” to continue. According to Baroni, he told Foye that the lane issue was important to Trenton and Albany would potentially get involved if it did not continue. Baroni said that he quickly dropped the lane closure issue with Foye despite calls from Samson and Wildstein because the agency was negotiating a capital plan and they “shouldn’t be having a fight.”
- Baroni and Kelly were barely acquainted at the time of the closures. According to Baroni’s testimony, he and Kelly had met only one time and spoken on the phone once briefly when the lane closures occurred. While Wildstein’s testimony acknowledged that the two did not regularly communicate, Baroni claimed that the two had never socialized or had meetings and that he mostly just “knew Bridget Kelly’s name.”
- There was a regular “turf battle” between Port Authority cops and NYPD officers about the World Trade Center. Baroni said that the two police forces regularly disagreed and had communications about who should be on site during 9/11 memorial events.
- Baroni doesn’t consider Wildstein “one of the best friends he ever had.” During his testimony, Wildstein claimed that he and Baroni were extremely close friends. During this Monday testimony, Baroni disagreed. “I think that David Wildstein and I have a very different definition of friendship.”
Baroni’s testimony will continue on Tuesday with cross-examination from the U.S. Attorney’s office.