On the morning of December 13, 2013, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stepped in front of reporters to take extensive questions on Bridgegate for the first time. He said he had “no reason to believe” that anyone on his senior staff was involved in the politically motivated lane closure scheme.
“I’ve made it very clear to everyone on my senior staff that if they had any knowledge about this that they need to come forward and tell me about it and they’ve all assured me that they don’t,” he said.
But that, according to a newly released text exchange between former aides to Christie, is a “flat out lie.”
A transcript of the text is contained in court filings submitted late Tuesday night by attorneys representing Bill Baroni, who faces trial next month for allegedly helping to orchestrate the September 2013 lane closure. The closure was meant to create traffic jams in the city of Fort Lee to punish its Democratic mayor for not endorsing the Republican governor, officials say.
The text message was sent by Christina Renna, who worked in the unit of the governor’s office that was focused on getting him reelected. It’s the strongest suggestion to date in the unfolding three-year saga that knowledge of the lane closure not only reached the top levels of Christie’s office, but was widely held among his campaign and gubernatorial staff.
“Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and [Christie campaign manager Bill] Stepien not being involved,” Renna texted to Pete Sheridan, a top aide on Christie’s reelection campaign who is now the No. 2 official at the New Jersey Republican party.
Sheridan responded: “I’m listening…Gov is doing fine. Holding his own up there.”
But Renna was insistent. “Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or ccfg [Chris Christie for Governor] emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad.”
Text between top Christie aides Christina Genovese Renna and Pete Sheridan. (Court Filing)
After Renna sent these texts, she deleted them. A month later, the “time for some traffic problems” email revealing the conspiracy was released. It came from Bridget Anne Kelly, who was Renna’s boss and Christie’s deputy chief of staff at the time. Kelly stands trial next month in federal court on Bridgegate charges alongside Baroni, the former Port Authority official. A third Christie appointee, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government.
Christie, meanwhile, hosted a four-hour shock-jock sports radio show Thursday morning on WFAN 660AM. He was not questioned about the breaking news on Bridgegate and instead fielded questions about topics like “nip slips” during the Olympic beach volleyball tournament.
Approached by the Associated Press after the appearance, Christie said: “It’s ridiculous. It’s nothing new … There’s nothing new to talk about.” He also said the text alleging he lied was sent by Renna when she was not under oath.
In 2014, Renna was under oath when she went before a state legislative committee and denied knowledge of Bridgegate. She did not reveal this text exchange with Sheridan, nor did she allege that Christie was lying at the press conference.
The text exchange was only released in today’s court filing because Baroni’s attorney, Michael Baldassare, is trying to restrict evidence submitted in trial. He argued that the Renna text, which she apparently deleted, should be a focal point of the case. “The government plans to admit irrelevant information while ignoring such texts (of which there are many),” Baldassare wrote.
Among the “irrelevant information” — the pressure exerted on Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, a Democrat, to endorse Christie’s reelection. The federal government cites this to support its assertion that Christie allies, including Baroni, routinely punished mayors. In one newly revealed email, Wildstein tells Stepien that he “can screw [Fulop] in less than an hour” if he doesn’t endorse.
“Good to hear,” Stepien replied. “I give him less of a chance than most of our other targets … quite the snake.”
An attorney for Stepien — the former Christie campaign manager now running a political group supporting the possible gubernatorial candidacy of Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno — did not respond to an email. Likewise, Sheridan did not return requests for comment.
And Renna referred questions to her attorney, Henry Klingeman, who said: “Ms. Renna will answer questions publicly when she testifies at the upcoming trial, not before.”