- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Republican Gov. Chris Christie has nominated a political ally whose name came up at the George Washington Bridge lane-closure trial to serve on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Republican state Sen. Kevin O'Toole was not accused of playing a role in the scheme, which prosecutors say was aimed at punishing the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s re-election. But he had issued a statement critical of the town’s access lanes to the bridge, which the agency oversees.

During the federal trial, former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to two conspiracy charges, testified he approached O'Toole to issue a statement supporting Port Authority official Bill Baroni’s 2013 statements to a state legislative committee that the lane realignment was a legitimate traffic study.

O'Toole strongly criticized the committee’s probe as being politically motivated.

Wildstein testified that the traffic study story was a lie to cover up the scheme’s goal of retaliating against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Baroni and former Christie deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly were convicted on all charges last November and face sentencing in March.

O'Toole would fill a vacancy at the Port Authority left by former Bergen County Executive William Schuber.

O’Toole, who represents parts of Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic counties, has served in the Legislature for 22 years and has been a close ally of the governor.

He served on the leadership team of Christie’s failed presidential campaign and defended him against a Democrat-led committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal.

In December 2014, O'Toole and other Republicans released a scathing report on the investigation, arguing it was overtly political.

O'Toole must be confirmed by the state Senate.

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