NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's staffer rose to the position in which she would be indicted, bitterness spread among her colleagues. Bridget Anne Kelly's defense attorney worked Friday to show jurors that this bitterness turned to sabotage.
Kelly has been on trial for three weeks, along with fellow Christie ally Bill Baroni Jr., over the mysterious closing of two lanes of traffic leading to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013. Four days of gridlock traffic ensued with the city of Fort Lee able to use only one of its three lanes that connect the Garden State to New York City.
Prosecutors say Kelly and Baroni engineered the lane closures to retaliate against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich after the Democrat had backed away from offically endorsing Republican Christie for re-election.
Defense attorney Michael Critchley on Friday meanwhile painted Kelly herself as a victim of political retribution by her own bitter subordinate.
The court heard this morning that the governor "freaked out" at Kelly when the media learned in June 2013 that his own office had been making jabs at his weight.
That month late-night host Jimmy Fallon had called the governor "Christie Creme doughnut," riffing off the popular pastry brand Krispy Kreme.
The joke made its way into a bake-off for interns of Christie's now-defunct Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. First prize went to an intern who had doctored a box to mimic Krispy Kreme's memorable polka-dot design, stamped "Christie Creme."
"Expanding nationwide in 2016," the box also said, alluding to Christie's aspirations of national office, with a veiled dig at his girth.
Christie's office had turned against Kelly months earlier, evidence showed Friday, shortly after Kelly's promotion to head of the Intergovernmental Affairs office, abbreviated as IGA.
While cross-examining Christina Renna this morning, Kelly's former No. 2 at the IGA, defense attorney Michael Critchley read a series of text messages from Renna. In them, Renna spoke of hating Kelly, whom she viewed as weak and indecisive.
"Fuck them," Renna wrote at one point, referring to Kelly and her predecessor, Bill Stepien. Renna referred to Stepein in another text as "the fucking devil."
Stepien had chosen Kelly as his replacement when he transitioned from the IGA to Christie's campaign team. Moving away from the old system of naming a No. 2, Kelly planned to keep Renna as one of three underlings on mostly equal footing.
The jury saw a number of texts from 2013 in which Renna traded barbs about Stepien and Kelly with fellow Christie staffer Peter Sheridan. One plan they hatched but never carried out involved quitting the governor's team and getting other staffers to rebel against Kelly. Another text quoted Renna's husband as saying that he wanted to assassinate Stepien.
Renna denied, however, that the text messages showed anything more than hurt feelings.
"I never hated Bridget," Renna said of Kelly.
Later in her testimony, Renna noted that theirs was a "complicated relationship."
Renna explained away a number of angry texts to frustration. "I was just angry," she testified. "These are personal text messages, and I was just angry."
Text messages from January 2014 that the court saw later showed a more sympathetic side to the witness.
"I feel terrible for her, and for hating her," Renna wrote to Sheridan after Kelly's involvement in Bridgegate was made public.
Critchley painted the witness to the jury as scheming and jealous, unhinged anytime someone got promoted over her.
The text messages Renna exchanged with Sheridan have been a recurring theme of Bridgegate reports, long before the trial.
This past summer, attorneys unearthed a text message Renna sent Sheridan during a Dec. 13, 2013, press conference in which Christie denied knowledge of any political retribution by his senior staff in the lane closures.
Renna told Sheridan at the time that Christie had "flat-out lied," but she recast this remark Thursday as speculation.
"That was a poor choice of words," Rena testified.
It was during this same press conference, the court learned today that Renna deleted a Sept. 12, 2013, email from Kelly. As described in detail Thursday, the message contained Kelly's response of "good" to learning that Sokolich was upset about the lane closures.
Renna had said Kelly asked her to delete the email, but Critchley attempted to paint Renna as looking out for her own skin.
He noted that the email — which Renna preserved before deleting by forwarding a copy to a second personal account — explicitly contradicted Christie's denial of knowledge of "retribution,"
"You had a document that used the word retribution," Critchley said.
The time stamp on the deleted email was during Christie's presser. "Was that just coincidence?" he asked.
Critchley persisted when Renna claimed she couldn't recollect when exactly she deleted the email. "You have evidence suggesting the governor lied," he said, "did you tell anybody?"
"I went to no one," Renna admitted, later noting that she did not want to get Kelly in trouble at the time because she did not realize her former boss had done anything wrong.
Throughout her testimony, Renna denied Critchley's claims that she was on a mission to "sabotage" Kelly.
"That's your word, sir," Renna said.
Critchley pressed on that the text evinced a plot to sabotage Kelly.
"You can read it that way," Renna said, adding that she and Sheridan meant only that they would turn their backs against Kelly.
Previous testimony has painted Kelly as enamored of Stepien. After the lane closures, an investigation unearthed that Stepien and Kelly were romantically linked in summer 2013. Both were going through divorces with their spouses at the time.
Critchley meanwhile questioned Renna about a $500 fine she faced last year for conflict of interest after the New Jersey government found that she had been forwarding press releases to her family and friends before the news went public. Issues discussed in the press releases were not particularly sensitive, however, with gossip not greed being the primary result.
Christie had been a rising star in the Republican Party in 2013, but fallout over the lane closures helped unravel the governor's bid in this year's presidential primaries.Follow @NickRummell
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