NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie grew very angry as word of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal came out shortly after his re-election, a former aide to the governor testified on Tuesday.
Deborah Gramiccioni said the Republican gathered his top aides in December 2013 and expressed his disappointment “in a thunderous tone.” He gave them one hour to produce emails or information regarding the closures to his chief counsel or chief of staff.
Gramiccioni said she first got wind of the matter when she met with Bill Baroni, whom she was replacing as deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She said Baroni told her he had heard from Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly that emails existed about it.
Baroni and Kelly are accused of plotting to shut down bridge lanes as part of a political retaliation plot.
Following Gramiccioni on the stand was Paul Nunziato, the Port Authority police union’s top cop. He testified that he was “quite upset” when Baroni told a legislative committee in November 2013 that his department had requested a traffic study be done at the bridge, because he knew what Baroni was saying at the time was a lie.
“I never raised the issue (of a traffic study)”, said Nunziato, president of the Port Authority’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Nunziato said he and his second in command, Michael DeFlippis, were summoned to Baroni’s office in the weeks before he was scheduled to appear before the legislative committee investigating the lane closures.
Baroni seemed “jittery and a little nervous” during the meeting, Nunziato said, adding that Baroni told them he wanted to tell lawmakers the massive gridlock in Fort Lee was tied to a safety study that they themselves had requested on behalf of their members.
Baroni told Nunziato and DeFlippis that he wanted to argue that police officers assigned to traffic duty around the Fort Lee local access lanes to the bridge were concerned about their safety, and that top PBA officials wanted the bi-state agency to conduct a review.
Nunziato, though, testified that none of his officers had complained about safety issues and he knew he was being asked to be complicit in a lie.
Sometime after Baroni’s testimony before lawmakers, Nunziato issued a statement acknowledging he agreed with Baroni’s testimony. But he insisted he only went along with Baroni’s story because he wanted to protect his estimated 1,600 union members.