The New Jersey legislative committee investigating the long-running Bridgegate scandal heard its first witness yesterday on the lane closures on the world’s busiest river span, the George Washington Bridge.
You’d be excused for thinking that the various investigations are going nowhere. The inquiries by the US attorney in New Jersey, the US attorney in New York City and the Manhattan district attorney—looking into Bridgegate, possible misuse of state power in distributing and withholding Superstorm Sandy aid and the conflict-of-interest scandal at the Port Authority—are all hush-hush. And the New Jersey joint legislative committee investigation has been frustrated by its inability to get the cooperation of and testimony from key participants, who’ve claimed their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, claims that were so far upheld in the courts.
Yesterday, in a hearing devoted to five hours of testimony from Christina Renna, a former top aide to Governor Christie—all of which were viewed by your Christie Watch reporters—there were no blockbuster revelations about who was responsible for shutting down the lanes. But the hearing did provide a clearer picture of how Christie used the governor’s office to help orchestrate his re-election. And Renna had some interesting observations about the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, who wrote the infamous “time for some traffic problems in Ft. Lee” e-mail that first linked the traffic snarl to the governor’s office and who has been scapegoated by the governor and the lawyers he hired to investigate the issue.
The committee has subpoenaed three more witnesses to testify in upcoming weeks. They include Michael Drewniak, the governor’s press spokesman; Pat Schuber, a commissioner at the Port Authority, which runs the bridge; and Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority, who was appointed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. It was Foye who reopened the bridge lanes last September and wrote a memo saying, “I believe this hasty and ill-advised decision violates Federal Law and the laws of both States.”
Renna, who previously headed the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) within the governor’s office, reported to Kelly, and Renna’s team was the key interface for local politicians and the governor’s office. The working theory on Bridgegate is that the lanes were closed in retaliation for the refusal by the mayor of Fort Lee to endorse Christie’s re-election effort, and the committee hearing made it clear that IGA was deeply involved in that campaign. (Renna herself strongly denied having anything at all to do with the lane closings.)
At the hearing she tried very carefully to protect both herself and the governor from ties to the scandal. But she did state definitively that someone higher up than Kelly made the decision to close the bridge lanes. When asked if Kelly has orchestrated the closures, Renna, at one time a close personal friend of Kelly as well as someone who worked for her, stated, “I wouldn’t say she was an architect, but she was instrumental.” She refused to speculate on whom Kelly might have been an instrument for.