New Jersey Governor Chris Christie "flat out lied" when, during a December 2013 press conference, he told reporters that his aides weren't involved in closing two of three George Washington Bridge access lanes in Fort Lee, New Jersey, according to text messages between staffers disclosed as part of the federal prosecution of some of them.
At the press conference, this is what the Republican governor was telling journalists about the act of retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for failing to endorse him:
Reporter: Governor, can you say with certainty that someone else didn’t, on your staff or in your administration, act on your behalf for the lane closures for political retribution?
Christie: Yeah, I have absolutely no reason to believe that, Angie, and I’ve made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff, that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they’ve all assured me that they don’t.
Reporter: Your campaign chief?
Christie: Oh, yeah. I’ve spoken to [Bill] Stepien, who’s the person in charge of the campaign, and he has assured me the same thing.
According to lawyers for William Baroni, a former top Port Authority official being prosecuted for his alleged role in the lane closures, Christie aide Christina Renna was watching the presser and texting fellow staffer Peter Sheridan the following:
Renna: Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved.
Sheridan: I’m listening.
Sheridan: Gov is doing fine. Holding his own up there.
Renna: Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or ccfg emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad.
Former Port Authority deputy executive director William Baroni (Getty)
Baroni's lawyers wrote that Renna apparently deleted 54 days of texts with Sheridan, including this exchange, after she had been subpoenaed, and falsely testified before the legislature that she had not held back anything from state investigators even though she had failed to turn over the messages. The exchange came to light through the material that Sheridan turned over, according to the filing.
The motion seeks to spread the blame around rather than, as Baroni's lawyers put it, "lay the actions of everyone at Mr. Baroni's feet." Baroni is charged alongside former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, with conspiracy, fraud, and other crimes related to the bridge closure scheme.
Another former Port Authority official, David Wildstein, has already pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts and admitted that the lane closures were meant to "punish" Sokolich, and were timed for the first day of school for greater impact.
Federal prosecutors are also seeking to include evidence that Baroni and others sought to punish Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop for disloyalty. In one email to an unknown person, subject line: "Re: Text from Fulop," Wildstein wrote, "Built a few emergency exits into deal and can screw him in less than an hour."
Lawyers for Baroni want the evidence related to the Jersey City maneuvering excluded, claiming it's irrelevant to the charges. They also want evidence kept out regarding children being late for school as a result of the four days of lane closures, the effects of the bridge closure on the efforts to find a missing child, and records of ambulance responses during that period. Video of Baroni's testimony before the New Jersey legislature should also be excluded, they say, because it's "political theater" and "unduly prejudicial."
Here's a clip of what they're talking about:
Here's more of that hearing.
The lawyers argue further that prosecutors are ignoring incriminating evidence, such as the "flat out lied" text, that point to other people's culpability. Renna has resigned, but not publicly been charged with a crime.
The Port Authority has said that Baroni deleted key records relating to former Port Authority chairman David Samson shaking down United Airlines to keep running a money-losing flight to South Carolina, where he has a home. Samson pleaded guilty to taking bribes last month.
Christie called Samson's crime "one lapse in judgement," and said, "David Samson's my friend and always will be."