New York Republicans tore into beleaguered Gov. Andrew Cuomo hours after top operative for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie testified that the New York governor had helped develop a top Port Authority’s testimony that the 2013 lane closures on the George Washington Bridge were part of a legitimate traffic study—even though both executives knew that the “traffic study” was a fraud.
David Wildstein—a former Christie-appointed Port Authority official who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the Bridgegate case— testified on the stand in Newark this afternoon that it was his “understanding” that Cuomo had collaborated with the Garden State’s governor in composing former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni’s claims to the New Jersey State Legislature that the traffic jams going into Fort Lee were the bungled product of a real experiment on vehicular access and a minor “miscommunication.” Cuomo, a Democrat, has long enjoyed a warm relationship with the Republican Christie, and the pair jointly control the Port Authority, which oversees the bridges and tunnels linking their two states.
Many have posited that Christie directed the closures to retaliate against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, who declined to endorse the Republican incumbent in his 2013 re-election bid, though both governors have denied any knowledge of such a plot. Wildstein’s comments today in the federal trial of several Christie appointees to the Port Authority, however, undercuts the two politicians’ claims of innocence.
“Today’s key eyewitness testimony that implicates Governor Cuomo in the cover-up of Bridgegate is another example of his political thuggery at the expense of New Yorkers,” New York State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox said in an emailed statement. “The revelation that he sacrificed the commuters of his state and participated in a cover-up to serve his own political interests make it clear he does not possess the moral authority for effective governance.”
Cox also bashed Cuomo over the ongoing scandal in New York that has threatened to swallow the Democrat’s once-imperturbable administration: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara‘s criminal charges against nine of the governor’s top aides and donors, which allege extensive corruption in Cuomo’s economic development initiatives. Among those accused is Joseph Percoco, known as one of Cuomo’s closest confidantes, who allegedly took bribes from two companies—both heavy donors to the governor’s campaign—in return for pressuring state agencies to loosen up with subsidies.
Also facing charges, not just from Bharara but from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is Alain Kaloyeros, former president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. Cuomo, who controls the SUNY board, put Kaloyeros in charge of administrating his massive Buffalo Billion project and other programs intended to lure or spur businesses across upstate New York.
The nanotechnologist stands accused of deliberately tailoring requests-for-proposals so only “friends of the administration”—those who had lavished cash on Cuomo’s campaigns—could qualify. Cuomo does not currently face any criminal charges, and it is unclear whether he was complicit or complacent in the alleged illegal dealings.
He has denied any awareness of wrongdoing in his notoriously micromanaged administration, and has introduced some small cosmetic reforms since the accusations broke last month. Cuomo’s office responded to Cox’s attacks by questioning Wildstein’s credibility, attacking him for marrying former President Richard Nixon’s daughter and linking him to Dean Skelos, the former Republican State Senate majority leader convicted on corruption charges last year.
“Ed Cox and the party of Dean Skelos are hitching their wagon to a felon’s hearsay testimony about matters that never actually happened,” spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement emailed to the Observer. “It’s sad and cheap, but not unexpected from Richard Nixon’s son-in-law.”
The reference Skelos is odd coming Cuomo’s office, given that the governor infamously called the now-disgraced GOP pol and Democratic then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver his “amigos” during his 2015 State of the State address. Bharara’s agents arrested Silver the next morning, and Skelos only months afterward.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Cuomo’s unsuccessful 2014 GOP opponent, intends to hold a press conference tomorrow in which he will call for both the New York and New Jersey governors to resign. Astorino lashed out at Christie when the New Jersey pol, then head of the Republican Governor’s Association, refused to lend assistance to his campaign three years ago.
Updated to include comment from Cuomo’s office.