NEWARK, N.J. — A former staffer for Republican Gov. Chris Christie said that she had no direct knowledge of what he knew about the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal and that a text message she sent claiming he was lying was a bad choice of words.
A text message from Christina Renna that said Christie “flat out lied” when he denied his senior staff and campaign manager were involved in the deliberately created traffic jams was released as part of a legal filing in August.
Christie disputed her story then and called it ridiculous. He noted that it came from a defense lawyer and not someone under oath.
Under oath on Thursday, Renna said she made those comments based on information told to her by Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, one of two former aides on trial in the case.
“It was a poor choice of words. I had no knowledge of whether or not the governor was lying,” Renna said. “I knew personally what Governor Christie was saying seemed to contradict what I was just told.”
Kelly and co-defendant Bill Baroni are accused of orchestrating the September 2013 closing of access lanes to the bridge to create traffic jams in Fort Lee to punish its Democratic mayor for not endorsing Christie for re-election. The bridge, one of the busiest in the world, connects Fort Lee and New York City.
Kelly and Baroni have pleaded not guilty and have said the government has twisted federal law to turn their actions into crimes. They also have said other people with more power and influence were involved in the lane closures but aren’t being prosecuted.
The text exchange between Renna, Christie’s then-director of intergovernmental affairs, and Peter Sheridan, a staffer on his re-election campaign, came while Christie was telling reporters at a December 2013 news conference that no one in his office was involved in the lane closings.
According to the court filing, Sheridan texted Renna to say Christie was “Holding his own up there.”
Renna responded, “Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or (campaign) emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad.”
Christie, who is advising GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, wasn’t charged in the lane-closing plot and has denied knowing anything about it while it was taking place.
The government’s key witness, David Wildstein, testified last month that he informed others in Christie’s inner circle about the conspiracy and that the governor was told about the ensuing traffic jams on the third of their four days. Christie also denies that.
Christie could be called to testify. A spokesman for him wasn’t available to comment Thursday.
Under questioning by federal prosecutors, Renna also told jurors of other conversations she said she had with Kelly regarding the plot. She said Kelly replied “good” when she told her in an email that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich called to complain about safety and say he was concerned the lanes were closed as retribution.
Renna said she brought that email up in the conversation the night before Christie’s news conference when Kelly said she didn’t know anything about the lane closures.
“Good can mean a bunch of different things,” Renna testified Kelly said.
Renna said Kelly asked her to get rid of the email but she kept a copy on another account, which prosecutors entered as evidence.
Renna will be cross-examined by defense lawyers Friday.