BRIDGEGATE TRIAL–Creating a Big Lie for the people in the cheap seats

Baroni. Photo Northjersey.com
Baroni. Photo Northjersey.com

Another day at the Bridgegate trial–another  journey through the la-la-land of what now passes for public life in a New Jersey run by Chris Christie and his toadies and sycophants.

What’s happening in that fifth-floor federal courtroom in Newark may or may not tell us whether Gov. Chris Christie knew or didn’t know about the traffic jam at the George Washington Bridge.

But the trial isn’t only about that: It’s about how easy it is to create the Big Lie and get all of us chasing around it, debating whether it ever happened, talking incessantly about what never occurred.

The topic for part of the day was the legislative response to what clearly was an effort by the Christie Administration to use its control over the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA) to advance the governor’s re-election effort in 2013. Lawmakers held hearings and asked one of the defendants–Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority–to explain how things had gotten so bad at the GWB that September.

Prosecutors played video clips of Baroni’s testimony in November, 2013–and then had its prime witness, David Wildstein, explain what was really happening. Color commentary on the Big Lie. The point was clear: Through Baroni, the administration was creating an alternate reality for us in the cheap seats, the seats too far away to see what was really happening.

For example, Baroni tells the legislators the biggest lie right away–this was a “traffic study.” Of course, it wasn’t.

Just imagine the tens of thousands of conversations generated by this whole notion of the traffic study–useless mouth-flapping among the uninformed because, as we all know now, there never was a study. So many people talking about a non-existent phenomenon as if it were real.

In the tapes, Baroni tells the legislators–and us–that Port Authority police officers “met with us” to discuss their concerns about the traffic patterns at the GWB tolls and that’s what got Port Authority executives thinking about the problem.

Hmmm. The cops are concerned. We have to act.

Never happened. No such meetings.

Then Baroni says–“based on these meetings”– Wildstein, then Baroni’s assistant (or, maybe, boss, depending on whom you believe), “requested a one week study based on options provided by Port Authority engineers.”

Nope. Didn’t happen either. What Wildstein was looking for was the best way to cause a massive transportation jam, he says now.

Baroni then talks about the three Fort Lee entrance ramps as an “unfair” arrangement that  was put together for other political reasons years earlier. It gives the 4.5 percent of Fort Lee residents who use the GWB–as counted by EZ Pass usage–access to 25 percent of the toll lanes while 95 percent of the other motorists must struggle with 75 percent of the toll lanes.

Except that wasn’t true either. Because people from other towns go through Fort Lee to get to the bridge. These were garbage statistics put together to inflame legislators, Wildstein says.

“It was not an accurate argument,” Wildstein says. “The intent of the  argument was to persuade the legislalators that it was unfair…Is it fair that all those people sit in longer traffic every day?”

Baroni–using the Wildstein playbook–was on a roll. No other interstate crossing operated by the Port Authority, he told the legislators, has local access lanes.

Not true. Jersey City streets feed into the Holland Tunnel. Weehawken streets provide access to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Wildstein is no Clooney, but the truth was adjusted
Wildstein is no Clooney, but the truth was adjusted

Baroni multiplies cars by minutes waiting and comes up with ridiculous statistics. It all seems so real.  But it’s not real,  says Wildstein–who, he says, should know because he invented the cover story and the statistics to go with it. He was the “fixer,” the “Mr. Wolf” of “Pulp Fiction,” the eponymous “Michael Clayton”, although this is no George Clooney on the stand.

But Baroni presses on with his fictions at the legislative hearing, says Wildstein.  All  this resulted in a Port Authority policy proposal to study the elimination of  local access lanes.

“No, it didn’t,” says Wildstein in court.

Then  there was a “communications breakdown” and that’s why Fort Lee and its mayor were caught unprepared.

“It was not a breakdown in communications,” says Wildstein. “It was a deliberate decision.”

Lies, lies, lies. So the debate can rage. The people in the cheap seats won’t pay attention to being shafted if they’re paying attention to nonsense. Reporters write stories without knowing the truth, just relying on the statements of others, trusting those who shouldn’t be trusted. Editorial boards meet and seriously dwell on non-existent facts and come to limp, useless conclusions.

And there’s more. Wildstein and Company find “validators”–people who, whether they buy into the story or not, will put out statements praising Baroni, giving credence to a story they don’t even know is a lie. Police union officials. Lobbyists. Legislators. All thinking they are banking favors in the swelling Piggy Bank of Christie’s political ambitions.

With his depiction of this shameful spectacle of deceit,  Wildstein ended his three days of direct testimony.  What he said should freeze thoughtful people in fear as they contemplate how their reality is constructed out of nothing more than vivid imaginations and the need to lie.

Now Wildstein faces cross-examination. Lawyers for Baroni and his co-defendant, former Christie aide Bridge Anne Kelly, will try to make him out as a liar. And maybe he is. Well, of course he is. He said so, himself.

But the real truth is some combination of people conned the people of New Jersey into believing the Big Lie so a picture could be created, sustained, of a tough Jersey Guy governor who was going to bring his brand of politics to the nation–just so long as he wins big enough against the Democratic candidate Democrats sold out for, among other things, Port Authority money.

. We might never know exactly who they all were. We might never assign legal culpability to Baroni and Kelly or anyone else. Because the crime really is bigger than misuse of Port Authority assets.

It’s misuse of public trust. It’s fooling us, the people down here in the cheap seats. And I don’t forgive them for that.

 

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. booklady

    According to Wikipedia, Bill Baroni taught Professional Responsibility course at Seton Hall Law School.
    Funny how association with Catholic schools (Bridget Ann Kelly graduated from Immaculate Heart Academy and Mt St Mary’s College) doesn’t matter much.

    Mr Braun, Thank you for your reports on Bridgegate trial.

  2. Michael Fiorillo

    Another fine piece, Bob, but for me the takeaway is that the entire system has been hijacked and we are all being force fed a Big Lie.

    That’s certainly true with education right now, everywhere you look.

  3. TK 2016

    Notes on Governor Greasebucks® (aka, the Trumpette® strumpet):

    The New Jersey Governor is the product of a Karl Rove cutting, grafted to the Bush family tree, then carried to New Jersey’s sensitive blue state ecosystem by the prodigal all-hat bicycle boy with notoriously poor impulse control, Bush Junior (informally known as “Re-raise & W”), who once blew through the Garden State by way of his daddy’s Alma mater, Yale University.

    Yup, the Yale University — believe it or not. Legacy power, baby. What in the name of mercy are they all doing up there in New Haven?

    Dubya, as he is squeamishly remembered (since hanging up his thorny decider crown and becoming, understandably, a bit of a hermit) was then something of a rootin’ (and tootin’) lost soul who later turned proud, political, gut-following autodidact. He soon learned himself to play megachurch evangelicals like a Texas fiddle, only to leave them feeling … somehow … used and painfully unfulfilled. Like a rich church in the lurch. Now, Dubya works a smaller canvas. With tinier subjects. Like his own feet. In a nice warm tub.

    Incredible and amazing (but not in a good way).

    Time and again, political America’s poll [sic] dancing reptiles (switching metaphors here) will return to the well of “entertainment” principles, having learned (OMG) to work the pole [sic] for any large, predictable, and easily aroused constituency. They are aided, of course, by nature’s ultimate night-crawlers, aka, “conniving campaign consultants”.

    “My name,” the candidates are trained to slither, “is anything you want it to be.”

    Flip over any of Donald Trump’s Pet Rocks® and discover strange wonders of the natural world.

    “What kinds of attacks do you want me to use?” invites the recently overexposed Son of Fred®. “Just tell me how I should do it. And make ’em juicy. And salacious.”

    Look! Just this week, Mr. Tax-Free® is again reaching out to us! I think he means it this time. Awww. Dear Don, the self-anointed king of piquant pink slip pronouncements, can really use a little help … in assaulting his opposition. For what? For being resistant while female?

    Sweet words fall so easily from his (The Donald Trump®) pouty lips, assuring us, in intimate, twitching, and tantalizing tones: Once elected – he breathily assures us – and we trust him enough to let him all the way into our deep, deep, pockets … it’s going to be Tremendous®.

    Locally grown paid manipulators (of perception, along with each and every “commodity” in sight) are pushing hard for the ultimate happy ending for NJ, for America, and for the Whole World®. We’re really going to love it. They promise. They really do. A whole new beginning. The white dress and everything.

    But why – I mean WHY – do people bite on such barkers, only to lose (time and again) more and more of their precious dental work? Why return to eat at Trump’s®, when you’ve already had that awful tingly sensation – of crumbling tooth enamel – only to be followed by a complete loss of any remaining root integrity?

    The bang’s in the bucks, no doubt, while the buck stops nowhere, and the pampered would-be emperors go off and loves them their Republican-made terracotta army of Pavlovian loyalists — somnambulistic lever-flippers, button pushers, mouse clickers and envelop-stuffers – lovingly hand sculpted and ready to neutralize the risks sometimes associated with the minor inconvenience of the old time folksy ritual we celebrate as Election Day.

    Experience tells the bifurcated big brains that an outbreak of the dreaded Democracy® could wreak havoc on their precarious social standing, not to mention their share prices, so they send word to uncork a case of Fit For The Masses® bubbly, and upgrade the nasty, stale, table bread, while adding a few Huge® rings to the incessant circuses, just to be sure. Keep that depressed electorate fed, expectant, and dopey, and just ambulatory enough to cross the voting booth threshold on festival day, before conking out again for the big sleep.

    While everyone else just goes cluelessly about their business.

    But wait, these clowns aspire to be gangsta! They look like political fodder, true, but are, in fact, homicidal Howdy Doodys, rising up straight from the old darkened pits of Svengalian message mills, packing genuine Peacemakers®, and with real ammunition. And, make special note, they’re reputedly stocking close to an unlimited supply of reloads. Do we think these twitchers know the cautionary meaning, for example, of just one indispensable word: Overkill?

    (Poor impulse control plus unlimited supply? What’s that spell? I’ll throw in an F, a W, and a III. One helluva game of hangman: 7 letters/ then 5/ then 3/ with a Roman numeral III on the end, for anyone who can’t resist a puzzle).

    So, how are the sane and the serious (who could back this freak show, yet still lay claim to being among the former?) going to determine the Potemkin “sheen” of the cavalierly naughty from the deep filth of the terminally vice-ridden? The fresh Shinola® from the fetid, crusty, boot poop? Especially when given this depth of nihilistic (but “remunerative”) incursion into the realm of American totems, rituals, and civic practices.

    By mystery people, carting around veritable truckloads of Lando-Da-Free® and Chrisco®?

    Same way as ever.

    Why court a high-priced risk of heart attack (on a fork, at a tacky eatery that uses Old Glory for tablecloths, drapes, napkins, and hostess hats) when we have at our hands a tried and true home-cooked recipe, proven to ward off the evil consequences of eating the cheap seconds of unscrupulous market mongers?

    Look very closely: Are the staff’s eyes sorta dead? With a hazy, tortured look? Like something long trapped in an untended drift net?

    Smell. Yeah, breathe it right in: Smiling, blacked-out ocular windows usually belie a telltale stench of compulsive and unsanitary armpit wiping. The odor of the unclean wafts above their every move. Their requisite soullessness (hey, was that in the job description?) renders them forever unprepared to come clean in court. An “invasive” public test like that is horrifying, even to them, for their bible warns that judicial sunlight is fatally toxic, and must, repeat, MUST be avoided AT ALL COSTS.

    About those costs – the Christie clan would so like us to all just chill out and relax already. It’s only Taxpayer® money. It ain’t even “properly” privatized yet – so let a nice, big, Christie Friend® help out with that, for a Reasonable® fee.

    Win big with Maestro Mastro, at: http://www.gibsondunn.com/practices/Pages/lit.aspx

    “… rather than just escape defeat,”

    Bleach out your entire underwear closet through the magic of gargantuan legal-trouble avoidance fees – much, much, bigger than we think — that can be readily dumped on so-called Idiot® jackass Jerseyans. High-dollar wonders, but wonders none the less, courtesy of another species of slippery amphibian: the deep-diving Connected Attorney®. For incomparable results, insist on using only the type that’ve had their beating hearts specially ripped out and never replaced, their chests stuffed instead with Christie Cream®.

    Best butter a True Jersey Dirtbag® can filch.

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