Witness: Christie disclosed secret grand jury testimony

David Voreacos

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie disclosed secret grand-jury information during a June 2010 meeting in which he discussed firing Democrats at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to make room for Republicans, the star witness at the trial of two Christie allies testified.

David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in the George Washington Bridge scandal, was questioned by a defense lawyer Friday about a meeting in Trenton where Christie went through a list of people he wanted hired and fired at the Port Authority.

Under questioning by an attorney for defendant Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff for Christie, Wildstein acknowledged that the governor discussed “secret grand-jury minutes” at the 2010 meeting.

“He told you about things that occurred in a grand jury?” Michael Critchley, Kelly’s attorney, asked Wildstein in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

“Yes sir, he did,” Wildstein said.

Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie, referred to a comment from his office from last year, when the disclosure was first made. "This is just the latest legal jockeying in yet another legal proceeding involving Mr. Wildstein, but one thing should be made clear: Anyone suggesting the governor disclosed grand-jury information is either lying or mistaken."

Withering Questioning

The exchange came at the end of a day of withering cross-examination of Wildstein, who admitted he engaged in decades of lies and political dirty tricks and hoped Christie was elected president so he could work in the White House. Wildstein’s testimony has provided a window into how Christie used Port Authority jobs, money and gifts to enhance his political prospects, punish opponents and secure endorsements.

Wildstein said Christie directed him to offer a $198,000-a-year Port Authority job to the then-Democratic sheriff of Passaic County, Jerry Speziale. The job offer was an effort to persuade Speziale to forgo his re-election bid and remove his $1 million political war chest, enhancing the prospects of a Republican winning the office. Wildstein said he was told the Federal Bureau of Investigation was probing that arrangement.

“An attorney for the Port Authority told me that he heard the FBI was investigating the hiring, and he said Don’t be surprised if the FBI comes knocking on your door,”’ Wildstein said.

Speziale, who took the Port Authority job, now works as the police director in Paterson, New Jersey. Wildstein made similar allegations last year in a June 2015 court filing in response to a lawsuit by Speziale against the Port Authority, Wildstein and others. Speziale didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

Kelly is on trial with Bill Baroni, the former deputy executive director of the Port Authority, for conspiring to create gridlock near the bridge in September 2013 to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. Defense attorneys have sought to portray Wildstein, the admitted architect of the plot, as a liar who falsely incriminated the defendants to please prosecutors in a bid to avoid prison.

Dirty Tricks

Critchley focused on how Wildstein, a former small-town mayor and political blogger, used Port Authority resources to help Christie and worked closely with the governor’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien.

Wildstein, in his sixth day of testimony, said he hoped as early as 2012 that Christie would be elected president in 2016 and was willing to move to New Hampshire or Iowa to work on the governor’s presidential campaign. He also offered frequent political advice to Christie’s campaign manager.

“I remember very clearly talking to a number of my friends about how much I would have enjoyed working in the White House,” Wildstein said. “Had Mr. Christie been elected president and I remained on his team, I would have definitely enjoyed going there.”

Shown a photo in which Christie has his arm around Wildstein, the two beaming at each other, Wildstein said, “I was teased about this particular photo and how adoringly we looked at each other.”

“That does not mean we adored each other,” he said.

Flag Giveaway

Jurors saw an e-mail that Wildstein sent to Stepien that referred to giving away flags that flew over the World Trade Center site — which the Port Authority owns — to enhance his prospects in key states that hold early presidential primaries.

“Just to be clear, at some point hundreds of flags flown over the WTC will find their way to VFWs all through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina,” Wildstein wrote.

Wildstein and Critchley added a few moments of levity during their tense, day-long exchange. When asked about the reason for giving out World Trade Center flags in key states for presidential hopefuls, Wildstein said: “As Governor Christie learned, not to be funny, if campaigns don’t get through Iowa and New Hampshire, it stops.”

Critchley also focused on Wildstein’s decades of deceit.

"It’s safe to say that over the arc of your life you engaged in lies and deceptions when it is in your self interest?" asked Critchley.

"Yes sir, there were times," said Wildstein.

The case is U.S. v. Baroni, 15-cr-00193, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

To contact the reporter on this story: David Voreacos in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, at dvoreacos@bloomberg.net.