As reporters pushed to find out the reason for the mysterious lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in September and October 2013, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York agreed to issue a report falsely explaining the closings as a traffic study in an effort to “put an end to” the growing scandal, the admitted culprit behind the scheme testified in federal court here on Tuesday.
At Mr. Christie’s request, he testified, Mr. Cuomo told the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the bridge, to “stand down” in trying to publicly blame the lane closings on Mr. Christie and his aides, at least until Mr. Christie had won re-election in November 2013.
Mr. Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Christie and Mr. Cuomo have previously denied that such a conversation ever occurred and said that they played no role in the cover-up of the lane closings.
The testimony, from David Wildstein, a former Christie administration official at the Port Authority, left open the possibility that Mr. Cuomo did not know the true reason for the lane closings. Mr. Wildstein, who is cooperating with federal prosecutors in the trial of two former Christie aides, has said they were to punish a mayor for declining to endorse Mr. Christie’s re-election.
But Mr. Wildstein has previously testified that he told Mr. Christie about the lane closings and their punitive intent as they were occurring.
The two governors agreed that Christie administration officials would write the report about the traffic study and that the Port Authority’s executive director, who had been appointed by Mr. Cuomo, would sign off on it. The executive director, Patrick J. Foye, had ordered the lanes reopened when he learned about the shutdown four days after it began. At least one of his staff members had called reporters to say that the story about a traffic study was false.
“My understanding at the time was that this would put an end to this issue,” Mr. Wildstein testified, referring to the report by the two governors.
“Pat Foye would sign off on a false report?” a defense lawyer, Michael Critchely, asked him.
“Yes, sir, that was my understanding,” Mr. Wildstein responded.
“And that was a result of conversations with Cuomo and Christie?” Mr. Critchely said.
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Wildstein said.
The day after Mr. Christie won re-election, an article in The Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Wildstein had been behind the order to close the lanes. Mr. Wildstein testified that he believed Mr. Cuomo’s direction to “stand down,” as Mr. Critchley said, did not extend beyond Election Day.
“I did not believe it was a coincidence that I had been told that Governor Cuomo had spoken to Mr. Foye during the election campaign and then suddenly comments from Mr. Foye went away,” Mr. Wildstein said, “and the day after the election a reporter called the Port Authority, called me, to talk about my involvement.”
Bridget Anne Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie, and Bill Baroni, Mr. Christie’s top staff appointee at the Port Authority, are on trial on charges that they directed and approved the lane closings to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., then covered up the scheme as a traffic study.
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