Staffer Texts Undercut Christie’s Bridgegate Denials

     TRENTON, N.J. (CN) — New evidence in the Bridgegate trial released today undercuts initial denials by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about the involvement of his senior staffers in the politically motivated shutdown of traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge.
     Three months after lane closures snarled bridge traffic for four days in September 2013, Christie told reporters during a Dec. 13, 2013, press conference that he had “no reason to believe” that any of his senior staff had knowledge of the shutdown.
     Christie has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the shutdown as federal prosecutors advanced charges that Christie’s deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly engineered the lane closures with Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, to exact retribution against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich not endorsing Christie’s re-election bid.
     In a motion filed today, Baroni’s defense team describe a number of text messages two former Christie staffers exchanged as the governor spoke to the press in December,
     Chatting with then-Christie campaign staffer Peter Sheridan, Christie’s former Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Christina Renna wrote that Christie “just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved.”
     Sheridan responded that Christie was “doing fine. Holding his own up there.”
     Renna, who is referred to as Christina Genovese in the filing, responded two minutes later: “Yes. But he lied. And if emails are found with the subpoena or ccfg emails are uncovered in discovery if it comes to that it could be bad.”
     The “ccfg” refers to Christie’s re-election campaign.
     Baroni and co-defendant Kelly are charged with conspiracy and fraud for their alleged roles in the lane closures.
     Though Christie’s aides and Port Authority officials initially attributed the lane shutdown to a traffic study, Port Authority officials later admitted to faking that traffic study as an excuse for the shutdown.
     Today’s defense filing says U.S. prosecutors are scapegoating Baroni and Kelly. “The government wants to blame Mr. Baroni for actions that others have already acknowledged were not his doing,” according to the motion by Michael Baldassare, an attorney for Baroni with Baldassare & Mara.
     “All this is even more problematic given what the government continues to ignore,” the filing continues. “[Including] things like a key text conversation between [Renna and Sheridan] during the governor’s December 13, 2013, press conference.”
     Baldassare writes that Renna deleted the 2013 text exchange in the face of several subpoenas and later “testified under oath before the Legislature in a manner not consistent wit the existence and deletion of those texts.”
     During sworn testimony before the New Jersey Legislature in 2014, Renna said: “I didn’t hold anything back.” During that testimony, Renna reportedly told lawmakers she feared she would be fired if she reported anything suspicious after the Bridgegate scandal broke.
     Baldassare says there were 54 days of missing texts between Renna and Sheridan from late 2013. The missing text messages were discovered during document production from Sheridan’s side, according to the new filing.
     In addition to damning text massages, a sealed list of unindicted co-conspirators is among the shadier aspects of the Bridgegate investigation that has drawn the ire of Baroni’s defense team.
     Christie told reporters earlier this summer that he doesn’t think his name is on the list, “but I guess no one knows until they actually put the list out.”
     Christie’s office has not yet issued a statement regarding the text messages.
     Jury selection for the trial against Baroni and Kelly is underway with opening statements scheduled for Sept. 19. U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton is presiding.

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