David Wildstein, the convicted felon who pleaded guilty for his role in the Bridgegate scandal, took the stand on Friday— and even after just two hours, his testimony was mind-blowing.
Wildstein was clear about his role at the Port Authority: he was "aggressive" and a "bad cop" who saw his mission from Day One as cadging Port Authority resources — from multi-million dollar projects to bits of burnt steel from the remains of the World Trade Center — to pursue Democratic endorsements for Gov. Chris Christie.
Where to begin?
1. Wildstein personally discussed with Christie using Port Authority resources to court Democrats.
Christie, you'll remember, has asserted he barely knew Wildstein. But Wildstein by his own admission was BFFs with Christie's inner circle, including Christie's former campaign manager, Bill Stepien (now national field director for Donald Trump's presidential campaign); Mike DuHaime, Christie's outside strategist; and Mike Drewniak, Christie's ex-spokesman.
From the day he took his job, Wildstein said, he understood that there was an active plan to court Democratic elected officials, as "Mr. Stepien had told me and discussed it with me, many times."
"Was the Port Authority going to be part of that strategy to court Democrats?" Wildstein was asked by prosecutor Lee Cortes.
"Yes," replied Wildstein, "the Port Authority was asked to play a role in securing those endorsements. I was asked by Stepien, and others."
"What others?" Cortes asked.
"Gov. Christie, and Ms. Kelly," Wildstein responded, referring to Bridgegate defendant Bridget Anne Kelly, who worked for Stepien.
2. By "Port Authority resources," Wildstein meant everything from big projects to bits of burnt steel from the World Trade towers.
Wildstein called his package of goodies, just that, "his Port Authority goody bag." He aggressively pursued the strategy of delivering the pieces of steel to Democratic mayors. He pointed out to Kelly that only two elected officials had been given a private tour of the (then-closed) World Trade Center site, and that this might be "exciting" and "interesting" for Democratic mayors. He came up with an idea to fly 100 flags at the World Trade Center on the 10th anniversary of the attacks, and then attach to those flags a certificate that said, "One hundred flags flew over the World Trade Center on 9-11-11 at the request of Governor Chris Christie," signed by Port Authority Chair and Christie BFF David Samson.
"Who provided you direction on what towns would receive the flags?" Cortes asked.
Wildstein responded: "I sent all of the flags to the office of the governor and the office of the governor distributed them."
Did he have discussions about where to send them?
"Yes, he said, "with Mr. Stepien and Ms. Kelly."
3. The governor's office in Trenton kept meticulous record of this distribution of Port Authority assets.
Before Wildstein testified, we heard from Matt Mowers, a former Christie administration staffer who has rocketed through the New Hampshire GOP to the top of the Trump campaign. Mowers described creating a Google doc spreadsheet in October 2011, two years before Christie's reelection, titled "Democratic Targets."
Each official was ranked on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, on the likelihood of getting their endorsement. (The Mayor of Fort Lee was a 4.) One of the columns was a list of favors: "PA events/money/steel/personal WTC tours." Then there were "game tickets" for the governor's box at MetLife Stadium or Prudential Center and meeting with the governor himself at Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion.
4. Trenton made sure Wildstein kept his secrets. Wildstein acknowledged he almost never used government email addresses. "I had been instructed early on the preferable way of communicating was through personal email," he said. "What had been explained to me was that personal emails weren't discoverable in a Freedom of Information request."
"Who instructed him?" Wildstein was asked.
"I recall Mr. Stepien telling me that, Mr. Drewniak telling me that." (The Christie administration has been so secretive that numerous organizations, including WNYC, have had to sue to get records. In several cases, including Mowers' list of Democratic targets, the courts have ruled against us.)
5. Wildstein and Bill Baroni were so close they had their own special language.
"Prior to 2014," Wildstein said, "Bill Baroni was one of the closest friends I ever had." The two met in the late '90s and became campaign friends. They would speak via AOL instant messenger, later texting.
Wildstein went around ringing doorbells for Baroni's campaign and gave Baroni campaign advice. Baroni was one of the very few people who knew that Wildstein was the anonymous blogger "Wally Edge," who ran a New Jersey-insider political blog. Shortly after Baroni got his job at the Port Authority, he invited Wildstein in to be, as Wildstein put it, "the bad cop," because "Mr. Baroni didn't enjoy playing the bad cop, he enjoyed playing the good cop."
Their code included Baroni telling Wildstein to "Wally" something, which Wildstein described as "researching," though it more likely meant to dig up dirt. They referred to people as "winner of the day," from Wildstein's political blog, PolitickerNJ. Once Wildstein sent Baroni an email entitled "Schmuck of the day," about a GOP lawmaker who publicly criticized the Port Authority's Newark Airport. And then there was the "one constituent rule." They had one constituent, one person they did everything for: Chris Christie.
6. Wildstein knew he was "unpleasant," "aggressive" and "crazy."
At one point, Wildstein interviewed Kelly's father about a job. Kelly emailed him: "Don't hold me against him and my crazyness :)"
Wildstein emailed back, "Do you presume to lecture me on crazyness? Frankly, I think the two qualities essential to this business are the "dead to me" gene and the "insanity gene."
Wildstein explained: "The insanity gene, specifically in New Jersey politics, we were all a little crazy, we were all a little dysfunctional."
"Including yourself?" Cortes asked.
"Yes. Including myself."