By David Voreacos, Bloomberg
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie “lied” in a news conference when he said his senior staff and campaign manager weren’t involved in the George Washington Bridge scandal, an aide texted to a colleague at the time, according to court documents.
The aide, Christina Renna, texted as Christie spoke on Dec. 13, 2013, and denied his top staffers and former campaign manager Bill Stepien closed lanes near the bridge in September 2013 as an act of political retribution, according to a filing by an ex-ally under indictment.
“Are you listening?” Renna texted, according to the filing. “He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved.”
After another aide responded, Renna texted: “Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or ccfg emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad.”
“CCFG” is an apparent reference to Chris Christie For Governor. A spokesman for Christie and a lawyer for Stepien didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Renna attorney Henry Klingeman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Christie, now also a senior adviser to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, has denied he had any knowledge of the Bridgegate scandal when it occurred. Christie fired an aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, in January 2014 after disclosure of an email she wrote a month before the lane closings that said: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
The text exchange was included in a filing Wednesday by lawyers for Bill Baroni, a former ally indicted with Kelly on charges that they created traffic jams near the bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, for failing to endorse the governor’s re-election. Kelly was Renna’s supervisor at the time in Christie’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
When he fired Kelly, Christie also severed ties with Stepien, who wasn’t charged with a crime. Stepien attorney Kevin Marino said Renna testified to a state legislative committee investigating the scandal and “in no way, shape or form did she suggest that Mr. Stepien was knowledgeable about or involved in the Bridgegate affair.”
Marino said: “Mr. Stepien was investigated for 16 months and was not charged with wrongdoing by anyone. I can say with confidence that Bill Stepien was not involved in the Bridgegate affair, and any suggestion that he was is simply false.”
Both Baroni and Kelly have pleaded not guilty. They attended a pre-trial hearing on Tuesday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, where the judge scheduled opening statements for Sept. 19.
The court filing said the Renna text exchange occurred when Christie was asked about the bridge scandal. He was asked if he could “say with certainty that someone else didn’t on your staff or in your administration act on your behalf for the lane closures for political retribution.”
Christie responded: “Yeah, I have absolutely no reason to believe that, Angie, 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.”
The governor was then asked about his campaign chief.
“Oh yeah,” Christie said. “I’ve spoken to Mr. Stepien, who’s the person in charge of the campaign, and he has assured me the same thing.”
Renna testified to lawmakers in May 2014 who were investigating the closing of access lanes to the bridge. Prosecutors say the gridlock over four mornings was intended to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich. Renna said Kelly asked her to delete an email during the middle of the lane closures, when Sokolich called to say he was “extremely upset.”
Kelly wrote: “Good.”
Renna told the panel that the request, on Dec. 12, 2013, was “strange” and “paranoid.” The text exchange took place a day later.
Renna said she “wanted to sleep on the request,” and deleted the email 15 hours later, after forwarding it to a personal account. “I wanted to be able to tell her in good faith that I did what she asked me to do,” Renna said. “But I wanted to protect myself as well.”
Prosecutors cited the Kelly request to Renna to delete the email in their indictment.
Prosecutors alleged in a nine-count indictment that Kelly and Baroni misappropriated resources of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which owns the bridge. They are also accused of defrauding the Port Authority of property rights and depriving the people of Fort Lee of their civil rights to travel without unreasonable government restriction.
A former Port Authority executive, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors.