By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A former aide to Chris Christie said in a text message that the New Jersey governor “flat out lied” when he said senior staff members were not involved in the “Bridgegate” scandal in 2013, according to a court filing on Wednesday.
The details were revealed in a document filed in New Jersey federal court by Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who is one of two former Christie allies facing trial next month on Bridgegate-related criminal charges.
Speculation has persisted for years about whether Christie or members of his staff were aware of an alleged plot to close two New York City-bound lanes at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee as retribution against Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who had refused to back the Republican governor’s re-election campaign.
Christie addressed the controversy at a Dec. 13, 2013, news conference, a day after the state legislature issued several subpoenas in its investigation of the lane closures.
“I’ve made it very clear to everybody on my senior staff that if anyone had any knowledge about this that they needed to come forward to me and tell me about it, and they’ve all assured me that they don’t,” Christie said at the time.
Christina Renna, former director of Christie’s intergovernmental affairs office, immediately sent a text message to Peter Sheridan, a member of Christie’s re-election campaign, according to the filing.
“Are you listening? He just flat out lied about senior staff and Stepien not being involved,” her first text said, referring to Bill Stepien, who managed Christie’s two gubernatorial campaigns.
In a subsequent text, Renna said “it could be bad” if emails were later uncovered through a subpoena or court discovery.
Christie would apologize weeks later at another news conference, when he said he was firing his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and that he had been “lied to” when he told reporters no one on his staff was involved.
He also cut ties with Stepien, saying at the news conference that he had lost confidence in Stepien’s judgment. Stepien has not been charged in the case.
“The governor’s statements have been clear,” a Christie spokesman, Brian Murray, said on Wednesday. “Nothing contained in this text message changes that in any way.”
A lawyer for Renna, now vice president of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey, said she would not address the issue until she testifies at the upcoming criminal trial for Baroni and Kelly.
Kevin Marino, a lawyer for Stepien, called the suggestion he might have been involved in Bridgegate “categorically false and irresponsible.”
Sheridan, who works for the state Republican party, did not respond to a request for comment.
Jury selection will begin Sept. 12 for Baroni and Kelly, who face charges including conspiracy and fraud. Another former Port Authority official, David Wildstein, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Bill Trott and David Gregorio)