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Chris Christie Seemed Happy About Bridgegate, Ex-Aid Says

He knew about it while it was going on, the former ally said

(NEWARK, N.J.) — Gov. Chris Christie was told about the epic 2013 traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge while it was underway, seemed happy about it and joked sarcastically that there was nothing political going on, a former loyalist testified Tuesday.

David Wildstein, a former executive at the agency that oversees New York-area bridges and tunnels, took the stand for the prosecution at the trial of two one-time Christie allies accused of engineering the four days of gridlock to punish a Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie. Wildstein has pleaded guilty in the scheme.

Wildstein’s account was the first testimony to suggest that Christie knew about the plot while it was unfolding.

Christie, whose Republican presidential ambitions were badly damaged by the scandal, has denied knowing about the scheme at the time and has not been charged with a crime.

On Tuesday, the New Jersey governor said: “All kinds of stuff is going on up on a courtroom in Newark. I want to be really clear: I have not and will not say anything different than I’ve been saying since January 2014. No matter what is said up there, I had no knowledge prior to or during these lane realignments.”

Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, are on trial, charged with conspiracy, fraud and civil rights deprivation over the alleged political-revenge scheme.

Wildstein, a former high-ranking executive at the Port Authority, testified that Christie was told about the traffic in Fort Lee on the third day of the gridlock during a Sept. 11 memorial event.

Wildstein said Baroni told Christie there was “a tremendous amount of traffic in Fort Lee” that morning and that Mayor Mark Sokolich was “very frustrated” he wasn’t getting his phone calls returned. Baroni then told the governor that Wildstein was watching over the situation, Wildstein testified.

“Well, I’m sure Mr. Edge would never be involved in anything political,” Christie responded sarcastically, and then laughed, according to Wildstein. “Wally Edge” was a pseudonym Wildstein used while publishing a New Jersey politics website.

Prosecutors showed jurors several photographs from the day showing Baroni, Wildstein and Christie talking.

Wildstein said he and Baroni had talked the night before about telling Christie at the 9/11 event because they were proud of what they had done. He said that during the planning of the scheme, Kelly had said the governor was “going to love it.”

The closing of two of three access lanes to the George Washington Bridge caused bumper-to-bumper traffic in Fort Lee, held up school buses and emergency vehicles, and left drivers fuming behind the wheel for hours at one of the busiest spans in the world. The bridge connects New Jersey to New York City.

For months afterward, Port Authority officials insisted the lane closings were part of a traffic study. But the scandal broke wide open with the release of emails and text messages, including one from Kelly to Wildstein in which she said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Last week, Wildstein testified that Christie’s office used the Port Authority to reward local Democratic officials whose endorsements were sought during Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign.

Christie was hoping at the time for a big landslide victory to demonstrate his crossover appeal if he were to run for president; he wound up winning re-election easily.

The scandal, though, helped drag down Christie’s White House campaign. While Christie once topped national polls ahead of the 2016 GOP primaries, he dropped out after New Hampshire and said recently that the scandal probably influenced Donald Trump’s decision not to pick him as his running mate.

While Christie is now leading Trump’s transition team, Trump said last December that Christie “totally knew” about the lane closings.

Christie, whose name is on a list of potential witnesses at the trial, has been meeting the attention recently with a heavier-than-usual schedule.

Associated Press writer Michael Catalini in Trenton contributed to this story.

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