Former Aide: Christie 'Flat Out Lied' in Bridgegate

by | August 11, 2016

By Maddie Hanna

A former aide to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie alleged that the governor lied during a 2013 news conference about his senior staff and campaign manager's involvement in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, according to a court filing.

"Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and (Bill) Stepien not being involved," the aide, Christina Renna, said in a text message to a staffer on Christie's 2013 reelection campaign, according to the filing late Tuesday.

The filing _ by lawyers for one of the former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials charged in the bridge scandal _ said Renna's text message was sent to campaign staffer Peter Sheridan while Christie held the Dec. 13, 2013, news conference.

During that news conference, Christie was asked whether he was certain that someone on his staff or in his administration didn't act on his behalf in closing lanes for political retribution.

"Yeah, I have absolutely no reason to believe that," Christie said. "And I've made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they've all assured me that they don't."

Asked about Stepien, who ran Christie's re-election campaign, the governor said Stepien "has assured me the same thing."

In the text message exchange with Renna, Sheridan responded: "Gov is doing fine. Holding his own up there."

"Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or ... are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad," Renna said.

The exchange was included in a filing by lawyers for Bill Baroni, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority.

Baroni is one of three former Christie allies charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring to cause massive traffic jams at the bridge in September 2013.

Speaking to reporters in New York after appearing on a sports talk radio show Wednesday morning, Christie denied that he lied.

"I absolutely dispute it. It's ridiculous. It's nothing new," Christie said, according to an Associated Press report. "There's nothing new to talk about."

He also noted that the information came from a filing from a defense lawyer and wasn't from someone who was under oath.

Christie has not been charged in the lane-closing scandal and has denied knowing anything about it.

Christie spokesman Brian Murray said "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."

The scandal broke open in January 2014 with the revelation that Bridget Anne Kelly, then-deputy chief of staff to Christie, had sent an email to a Port Authority official that read: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

In announcing that he had fired Kelly, Christie said at a January 2014 news conference that she had lied to him.

When his staff was interviewed a month earlier about the lane closures, "they all reported that there was no information other than what we already knew that had been testified to" by Baroni, Christie said. Baroni had testified to lawmakers that the lane closures were part of a traffic study.

In addition to firing Kelly, Christie also cut ties with Stepien, saying he had lost confidence in his former campaign manager over Stepien's "callous" tone in email correspondence related to the lane closures.

Kelly and Baroni are set to face federal trial in September.

David Wildstein, the former Port Authority official who replied "Got it" to Kelly's "traffic problems" email, pleaded guilty last year to a role in the lane closures, which prosecutors allege were orchestrated to punish Fort Lee's Democratic Mayor Mark Sokolich for not endorsing the Republican governor's re-election bid.

Stepien, who ran the re-election effort, was not charged.

Stepien's attorney, Kevin Marino, said Wednesday it was "categorically false and irresponsible" to implicate his client in the bridge affair "based on a text message that has been in the government's possession for years."

He said "Renna testified before a legislative committee for more than four hours and did not implicate Mr. Stepien. The government investigated the Bridgegate affair for more than 16 months and did not charge Mr. Stepien."

In their filing Tuesday, Baroni's lawyers described the December 2013 exchange between Renna and Sheridan _ in which Renna named Stepien _ as a "key text conversation" that the government had ignored. In contrast, they said, they were seeking to block other information from being admitted that they argued would be prejudicial to Baroni.

Baroni's lawyers said it "appears to be clear" Renna deleted the text exchange with Sheridan, and testified under oath before the Legislature "in a manner not consistent with the existence and deletion of those texts."

In a statement late Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski, the co-chairs of the Special Legislative Committee that investigated the lane closures, urged the U.S. Attorney's office to take another look at the latest disclosures.

"The messages from Ms. Renna to a Christie campaign staffer saying that the governor was lying mean that she was lying as well," they said, noting that in her testimony before their panel Renna had testified that "she had no knowledge of any role in the lane closures by the governor or his staff."

Renna, who left Christie's administration in February 2014, testified before lawmakers later that year about her role in the now-disbanded Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which was charged with assisting local officials.

Staffers in the office also volunteered for Christie's re-election campaign, spurring questions from lawmakers about the overlapping roles.

Kelly was Renna's supervisor _ replacing Stepien, who had left to work for Christie's 2013 re-election campaign.

Renna cast Kelly as an insecure manager. She said that after Kelly was interviewed by Christie's chief of staff about the lane closures, she called Renna and asked her to delete an email related to a phone call from Sokolich, the Fort Lee mayor.

Henry Klingeman, a lawyer for Renna, said Wednesday that "Ms. Renna will answer questions publicly when she testifies at the upcoming trial, not before."

Renna is listed now on the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey's website as its vice president.

Last year, she agreed to pay a $500 penalty after the state ethics commission found she had shared information from her state job with her husband, South Jersey Industries President Michael Renna, in violation of the state's Conflicts Law.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer