By Melissa Hayes, The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
TRENTON, N.J. — A former aide in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office is scheduled to appear before lawmakers Tuesday at the first in the latest series of hearings as the investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closures continues.
Christina Renna is expected to answer questions about her job as director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, a section within the governor’s office where staff volunteered to secure Democratic endorsements for Christie’s re-election bid last year. Renna worked under Bridget Anne Kelly, the deputy chief of staff Christie fired after The Record first reported that she sent the now infamous email, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” setting into motion access lane closures in an apparent act of political retribution against the Fort Lee mayor.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, co-chairwoman of the committee, said Monday that the panel is trying to determine what the atmosphere in Christie’s office was at the time of the lane closures.
Renna is the first of five witnesses being called before the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee in its latest round of subpoenas to answer questions about documents she turned over to the panel.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chairman of the committee, said Renna would also be asked about remarks she made to a team of attorneys Christie hired to lead an internal investigation into his office’s involvement in the lane closures. The attorneys from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher released summaries of the 75 interviews last month at the request of the legislative panel.
Renna told the internal investigators that her office would receive “mandatory directives” of mayors they should not call or check in with. She said she did not know of an instance where it rose to the level of lane closures, but said not returning calls “was enough to send a message to the local elected official.”
She said intergovernmental affairs staff volunteered at Christie’s campaign headquarters in Bridgewater on Wednesdays and participated in weekend calls with campaign staff. Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich was one of the Democrats targeted for an endorsement, but his name was removed from the list last April after it became clear he wouldn’t support the governor, Renna told the investigators.
Wisniewski said the difficulty will be prioritizing questions to cover everything in one day.
The panel has scheduled weekly hearings. Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press secretary, is set to appear next Tuesday. Matt Mowers, an intergovernmental affairs employee who left to work on Christie’s campaign, has been asked to testify May 20. The final hearing on June 3 will focus on the Port Authority, with Patrick Foye, the executive director, and William “Pat” Schuber, a New Jersey commissioner, scheduled to appear.
Kelly and Bill Stepien, who held the deputy chief of staff post before leaving to manage Christie’s campaign last year, have refused to provide documents citing their Fifth Amendment rights. The committee has not yet called them to testify or issued narrower subpoenas after a judge ruled the initial requests were overly broad. On Friday an attorney for David Samson, who resigned last month as chairman of the Port Authority’s board, said he would not turn over any more documents in response to the committee’s subpoena.
All three have cited the ongoing U.S. Attorney’s Office investigation into the lane closures in their refusal to provide documents. Federal authorities subpoenaed the committee, seeking all documents the lawmakers have obtained through their inquiry.
The Gibson Dunn report, which cleared the governor of any involvement, blames Kelly and David Wildstein, a former Christie appointee at the Port Authority, for carrying out the lane closures.
Wildstein was also called to testify before the committee after turning over documents, but refused to answer questions, citing his right to protect himself against self-incrimination.
AFP Photo/Eric Thayer