What We Learned at First Bridgegate Testimony

Matt Katz | May 7, 2014 | Katz on Christie

In the first Bridgegate testimony from anyone in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, we heard from Christina Renna, a former Christie staffer, for five hours on Tuesday. Renna worked as a supervisor in the Intergovernmental Affairs unit of the governor’s office, directly under Bridget Kelly, who wrote the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” email. Shortly after Bridgegate broke, she quit. Here’s what we learned:

  • Kelly was involved in the scheme to close the lanes to the George Washington Bridge, Renna said. She wasn’t the “architect” of the plan, though, and while Renna wouldn’t theorize who was, she did say that Kelly wasn’t the type of person who would make decisions on her own. She constantly needed approval, Renna said, which begs the question about whether Kelly got approval for the lane closures from a superior.
  • Renna described Kelly as overwhelmed by life — erratic, insecure and prone to anger without cause. (For her part, Kelly’s attorney, Michael Critchley, sent an email to reporters after the testimony saying Renna’s testimony was “erroneous” and she “should more closely examine her own failures and questionable conduct.”)
  • In December, one month before Bridgegate broke, Kelly called Renna and instructed her to delete an email sent during the September lane closures. In the email, Kelly appears to express satisfaction that Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich is upset about the life-threatening traffic jams crippling Fort Lee due to the back-up at the bridge. Renna ends up deleting the email but saving a copy for herself, and she decides not to tell her superiors — like Christie’s chief counsel. Why? She was afraid she’d get fired if Kelly got wind of her reporting this possible illegal act up the chain. This is a window, perhaps, of what it was like to work in Christie’s office.
  • What makes the anecdote about this email even more fascinating is that it turns out that, unbeknownst to Renna, Christie’s top staffers — and Christie himself — were aware of the less incriminating part of this email chain in December. Kelly showed it to them. But no one ever questioned Renna about it to try to get more information about who knew what about the lane closures. The lack of curiosity, say Democrats, is curious.
  • Renna’s staffer Evan Ridley is viewed by Kelly and Renna as sometimes lying about meeting with mayors whom he didn’t really meet with. Yet he still works for Christie.
  • The internal Mastro Report that Christie commissioned to examine the Bridgegate affair (at a cost of many millions of dollars to the public) included a summary of an interview with Renna. In it, Renna said that the governor’s office kept lists of favored mayors and issued mandatory directives to ignore calls from unfavored mayors. But Renna seemed to retract those accusations in her testimony, saying the Mastro Report was simply wrong, and no such written lists existed. She denied that there were mandatory directives to ignore any mayor — other than those who may be on the verge of being indicted (this being New Jersey, after all). And despite evidence that public employees were seeking endorsements for Christie during the workday, Renna said all of her staffers knew that work for the Christie re-election campaign had to be done after-hours only.
  • In an emotional moment, Renna described how Kelly called Renna when she found out she was fired on Jan. 9. Kelly was crying so hard, Renna said, she could barely speak. Her final words? “You can’t trust anyone, Christina.”