TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A former staff member to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told lawmakers Tuesday that her boss, the fired aide accused of orchestrating the political payback plot at the George Washington Bridge, wasn't capable of such a maneuver.
"She was just not a decision-maker," the ex-staffer, Christina Renna, said of her former boss, Bridget Kelly. Renna testified under oath before a state legislative committee investigating the politically motivated lane closings that caused gridlock in the town of Fort Lee.
"I wouldn't say she was the architect, but she was instrumental in the process," Renna told the panel during nearly five hours of testimony.
Renna's assertion was somewhat at odds with the picture painted in emails and encouraged by Christie lawyers that Kelly appeared to set the lane closings in motion when she wrote "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." Yet both Renna and a report by the Christie lawyers into the lane closings similarly characterized Kelly as unpredictable and hard to please.
Christie has denied knowledge of the closings. But lawmakers have questioned the atmosphere he allowed to persist in his office and whether political gains were emphasized over the tasks of governing, something Renna disputed.
Renna worked under Kelly when the lanes were intentionally blocked last September and resigned in February. She told the panel she had no knowledge or involvement in the plot. Christie had Kelly fired in January after the scandal broke open.
The lane closings, and separate legislative and federal investigations into them, have become a major distraction for Christie as he contemplates a 2016 White House bid.
During her testimony, Renna denied that politics ever infiltrated the governor's office, yet she also said political work during Christie's re-election campaign last year was conducted during off-hours rather than avoided altogether. And she said Kelly's department, the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, kept lists, at least informally, of mayors who endorsed Christie or were thinking of doing so. She denied that those targets received extra attention from the administration.