(To see previous testimony from Thursday, click here.)
NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — Gov. Chris Christie’s indicted former staffer had daggers in her eyes Thursday as the court heard damning evidence from a witness she once counted as a friend.
Christina Renna took the stand Thursday afternoon to testify for federal prosecutors about a September 2013 traffic jam that mired New Jersey commuters, school buses and emergency vehicles in four days of gridlock.
The congestion began on Sept. 9, 2013, with the sudden closure of two lanes connecting Fort Lee, N.J., to New York City via the George Washington Bridge.
Prosecutors say three Christie allies engineered the lane closures to get back at Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich because the Democrat had withdrawn his support of Republican Christie for re-election.
Renna has been a highly anticipated witness in the trial since attorneys unearthed a text message she sent Christie staffer Peter Sheridan during Christie’s Dec. 13, 2013, press conference.
Renna had texted that the governor “flat-out lied” about his senior staff not being involved in the lane closures.
Since Christie still maintains that he did not know at the time about the involvement of his staffers, Renna’s message cast doubt there.
Today Renna said she really should not have been speculating about what Christie knew.
“That was a poor choice of words,” she said.
With a guilty plea already from David Wildstein, a trial began last month against Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Ann Kelly, and Bill Baroni, a trusted Christie appointee. Baroni and Wildstein both worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a public agency that operated the bridge.
Like Kelly, Renna worked for Christie’s now-defunct Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The two had been close once but a falling out that went unexplained from the stand today cast a noticeable chill in the courtroom. Kelly’s defense attorney Michael Critchley smiled throughout.
Renna told the court about emailing Kelly on Sept. 13, the day Fort Lee’s lanes finally reopened under an executive order from the head of the Port Authority.
The message relayed that Sokolich had finally gotten hold of his liaison at Christie’s office, a regional director named Evan Ridley. Sokolich had apparently told Ridley that Christie’s office was making him look like a “fucking idiot.”
Kelly had one word about it.
“Good,” she replied to Renna at 11:44 p.m.
No one replied to Sokolich.
Prosecutors entered copies of the emails into evidence.
The scowl Kelly trained on Renna hardly wavered throughout the witness’s testimony today. Renna said she was under the impression that Sokolich was in the mayor’s “penalty box.”
Previous testimony has established that the office had a more sinister application aside from its stated mission of connecting the governor to municipal officials. The Mr. Hyde face of the office allowed Christie’s team to keep track of those who slighted Christie, and dished out punishments accordingly.
Interrupting hours of dirty looks and head shaking, Kelly shed tears for 20 seconds in court this afternoon when her family was mentioned.
Over almost as soon as she started, Kelly cried briefly as the court heard that reporters pursued her oldest daughter at school about Bridgegate.
Critchley put his arm around Kelly during the sudden outburst.
The icy glare was in full force when Renna talked about her Dec. 12, 2013, calls with Kelly.
Renna said she returned a call from Kelly while driving home that night, and that Kelly was frantic.
“I didn’t know anything about the lane closures,” Kelly had said, according to Renna’s testimony.
Yet Kelly allegedly knew just what Renna was talking about when Renna reminded her of the Sept. 13 email exchange.
“Is that the email I responded to with the word ‘good’?” Kelly asked, according to Renna’s testimony.
“Good can mean a bunch of things,” Kelly allegedly continued.
Renna said Kelly had a request. “Do me a favor and get rid of it,” Kelly allegedly said, meaning the email. “Yeah, I’m just very nervous.”
Kelly smirked and shook her head from the defense table at this part of the testimony.
Renna explained that Kelly had told her that night about a “nerve-wracking” conversation she had just had, concerning the lane closures, with her boss, Kevin O’Dowd, Christie’s chief of staff at the time.
Kelly and Renna spoke again later that night, and Renna said Kelly made a telling remark.
“If somebody tells me something is OK, who am I to question them?”
The line suggests Kelly was following instruction from convicted Bridgegate plotter Wildstein at the Port Authority.
Renna said her attempts at consoling Kelly crashed and burned.
“I don’t need your vindication, Christina,” Kelly allegedly told her.
On the morning after this call, Baroni was to announce his resignation, and Christie had a press conference scheduled.
“I’ve been hiding under my desk about this whole Fort Lee issue,” Kelly said, according to the Renna’s testimony.
Prosecutors entered a new evidence exhibit, showing that, after Renna and Kelly hung up that night, Renna texted a friend of hers on the Christie campaign.
“Top Secret,” the message to Sheridan read.
As the two texted about Baroni’s imminent departure, Sheridan appeared unmoved.
“Well, we knew this was coming,” he said.
Renna also described her chat that night with Kelly, saying suddenly the two were friends again.
That night, Renna deleted the original copy of Kelly’s “good” email. Before she did so, however, she forwarded a copy of it to a separate account on Comcast to preserve it.
Renna received the original “Good” email on her personal Gmail account. The court has heard from earlier testimony that it was protocol at Christie’s IGA for staffers to use personal email accounts for the unofficial, Mr. Hyde side of operations.
Since Christie endorsements were campaign-related, not official business, keeping track of them was considered extracurricular and supposed to be done off-duty, on personal email.
Kelly’s undoing came on Jan. 8, 2014, when a news article came out quoting text messages she sent ahead of the September lane closures.
“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly had texted Wildstein, a day after Mayor Sokolich said he would not be endorsing Christie.
Renna said Kelly called her hysterically crying.
Kelly had apparently been driving when she heard the news and pulled over to the side of the road.
Renna remembered asking Kelly whether she talked to governor about her concerns.
“He won’t talk to me,” Kelly said of Christie, according to Renna’s testimony.
A day earlier, Renna said, Kelly had just been letting her guard down
Renna said Kelly told her she was “glad that the Fort Lee situation was dying down.”
When Kelly wanted help later deleting her Twitter, Renna said ther was nothing she could do because she didn’t have Kelly’s password or login information.
(To see previous testimony from Thursday, click here.)