Source: CNN -
The New Jersey bridge scandal re-enters the spotlight Tuesday as a key witness testifies for the first time about a controversy that has roiled Chris Christie’s administration.
A state legislative committee, which has been investigating orchestrated traffic jams around the George Washington Bridge last year, will hear from Christina Renna. She’s an aide who worked under the governor’s ex-deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly.
Kelly, a key figure in the controversy, was fired in January following the disclosure of a now-infamous email – “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” – from her to another Christie appointee at the center of the mess.
Renna is the first of five people subpoenaed by the special legislative committee to testify under oath about the roles played by high-profile figures in the scandal.
The legislative panel and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey are investigating the gridlock, which was triggered by the closure of access lanes to the nation’s busiest bridge over several days in September.
Investigators want to know whether top officials abused their authority and, if so, were they trying to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not backing Christie, a Republican, for reelection.
Renna, who’s testifying under subpoena, reported to Kelly and worked closely with her in the intergovernmental affairs office. She left her job earlier this year as the bridge scandal began to make national headlines.
While there is speculation that some Republican members of the Democratic-led committee may not participate in the hearing, Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin said she plans to attend. Though she expressed frustration at the investigation.
“So far we’ve spent three quarters of a million dollars and we don’t have anything to show for it,” she told CNN.
Handlin doesn’t expect Renna to drop any bombshells because she doesn’t believe Renna was privy to the planning or execution of the Fort Lee lane closures.
In documents made public last month as part of the Christie internal review Renna, 33, described her relationship with Kelly. She said the two would occasionally grab a drink after work but they did not socialize outside of the office. Their friendship started to wane after Renna got married in July 2012, according to the report.
She said Kelly and David Wildstein, the former Christie-appointed Port Authority executive caught up with Kelly in the lane-closure fiasco were “exceptionally close,” according to memos from Renna’s interview with Christie’s lawyers.
As an employee in the intergovernmental affairs office, Renna was familiar with the administration’s efforts to build relationships with mayors across the state.
She said she remembered Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was on the list of potential Democratic endorsements for Christie, but he was taken off sometime in April 2013.
She said another Christie aide, Matt Mowers, was in charge of asking Sokolich for the endorsement. Mowers, who now works for the New Hampshire GOP, has also been subpoenaed to testify.
As journalists and state lawmakers started looking into the lane closures, Renna said that Kelly called her in December and asked her to delete an email related to Sokolich being angry during the closures. Renna, however, kept a copy.
On January 8, a local paper broke the news that the lane closures could have been a case of political retribution.
The next day, Kelly called Renna “crying to say that she had been fired.”
Renna told lawyers that Kelly said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. You can’t trust anyone, Christina.”
Kelly has waged a successful legal campaign to blunt the investigative committee’s subpoena to turn over documents and other information.