In a federal court filing, former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni is asking for all communications related to officials courting Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s endorsement of Gov. Chris Christie to be excluded from the Bridgegate case.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“More troublingly, the government wants to blame Mr. Baroni for actions that others have already acknowledged were not his doing,” Baroni’s attorneys, Michael Baldassare and Jennifer Mara, wrote in today’s court filing (h/t Politico NJ).
“Thus, the fact that Governor Christie and others have stated that the Governor is responsible for cancelling meetings with Mayor Fulop does not matter to the prosecution. The government plans to blame Mr. Baroni.”
According to Baroni’s legal team, the indictment against their client contains just two sentences on this issue regarding “the coordinated and deliberate refusal by the conspirators communicate with meet, or respond” to Fulop beginning in or about late July 2013.
According to the April 23, 2015 indictment issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which also charges former Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly, the duo misused Port Authority property, committed wire fraud and civil rights violations related to the George Washington Bridge lane closures enacted by Port Authority as part of a traffic study.
However, an email from Kelly to then Port Authority official David Wildstein, who has since pleaded guilty to playing a role in the Fort Lee lane closures, she wrote “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The email came after Democratic Borough Mayor Mark Sokolich declined to endorse Christie’s re-election campaign in November 2013.
Baldassare and Mara further argue that only conspirators, who haven’t been charged criminally, played any role in the cancelled meetings.
They also allege that Christie told members of his cabinet, at an unnamed date, not to meet with Fulop since he “did not merit any kind of special treatment,” since Fulop was an enemy of state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and he did not want to harm his relationship with him.
Fulop, who created a website asking Christie to resign in March, is a leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate next year, along with Sweeney.
In a September 12 email from Fulop to Wildstein, the mayor wrote “FYI. I think things are set on our side. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help close from your side.”
The subject of the email was “FAPS,” referring to Foreign Auto Preparation Service, a major processor of imported foreign vehicles owned by the Port Authority.
Then, on October 17, 2012, Wildstein emailed Bill Stepien, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff and 2013 campaign manager, stating “I expect to be disappointed but worth taking a shot.”
In the same email chain, Wildstein tells Stepien “Fulop owes you big time” for working out a deal with FAPS.
In another email chain from November 15, 2012, Wildstein remarks to Stepien “Built a few emergency exits into deal and can screw him in less than an hour.”
It then appears that Wildstein is convinced Fulop will be endorsing Christie for re-election, writing in a November 28, 2012 email to Stepien:
“Good meeting with Fulop today, very open about his intent to endorse -although clearly that’s what I wanted to hear from him.”
However, things suddenly took a turn for the worse on September 3, 2013, shortly after Fulop met with Republican state Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40), a Christie ally.
In an email from that morning, Stepien tells Wildstein to “kill” the deal with FAPS.
Fulop ultimately did not endorse Christie and implied he would be voting for Democratic candidate and then-state Senator Barbara Buono in 2013, but largely stayed out of the race.
The news regarding Fulop has been largely overshadowed this morning by a 2013 text exchange between two former Christie staffers that said the governor “flat out lied” about his employees not being involved in the Fort Lee lane closures (h/t Wall Street Journal).
“The Governor’s statements have been clear. Nothing contained in this text message changes that in any way. He stands by those statements completely and unequivocally,” Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie’s office, told Hudson County View in an email.
Murray also pointed to a January 9, 2014 speech by Christie where the governor said he was “embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team,” according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
He did not comment on any aspect of the Baroni court filings related to Fulop/Jersey City.
A Jersey City spokeswoman did not return an email seeking comment this morning, while a Port Authority spokesman declined to comment.
The Bridgegate case is set to begin in Newark federal court on September 12.