Over 200 pages of new documents were released Monday by the New Jersey Legislature’s committee dedicated to investigating last September’s lane closures on the George Washington Bridge and they reveal potentially damning conversations Gov. Chris Christie’s aides had about a man at the center of the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal.
The documents came from a subpoena the committee issued to Christina Renna, a former staffer in the governor’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, which was also known as the IGA. Renna testified before the committee last week. The IGA was a unit inside Christie’s office that managed relationships with local officials throughout New Jersey and reportedly focused on leaders in 100 “swing towns” the governor’s campaign team believed was crucial to his re-election effort last year.
Renna’s communications with other IGA staffers show Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich was identified on a list of “potential d targets,” Democratic mayors who might be willing to cross the aisle and endorse Christie. The lane closures led to days of traffic in Fort Lee and some Democrats have alleged they were ordered to retaliate against Sokolich for declining to endorse Christie’s re-election effort.
In addition to showing Christie’s staff courted Sokolich, Renna’s communications indicate Sokolich’s relationship with the governor’s office soured in the months leading up to the lane closures.
Last February 4, Renna and another IGA staffer, Matt Mowers, quickly responded when Sokolich asked whether there was Hurricane Sandy relief grant money available to purchase generators for high rise buildings. Three days later, Mowers sent out a summary of a lunch he had with Sokolich where they discussed a potential endorsement. In March, IGA staffer Pete Sheridan sent an email implying Sokolich would not endorse.
“Unfortunately I think Sokolich is going to be a no,” Sheridan wrote. “It’s a shame too — I really like the guy.”
Despite Sheridan’s prediction, the IGA apparently kept in touch with Sokolich. On June 6, 2013, Christopher Stark, who also worked at the IGA, sent in a summary of another meeting with Sokolich.
“Mayor Sokolich remains supportive of the administration and willing to help as needed, but there is a bleak outlook on any public endorsement,” Stark wrote.
Stark’s summary also noted Sokolich said he was “very proud” of a real estate development being built next to the George Washington Bridge and called the project “a major focus” of his 2011 re-election campaign. Some observers have speculated that project may have been linked to the lane closures.
By August, cordial meetings between Sokolich and the IGA seemed to be a thing of the past. Last Aug. 16, Renna and an IGA higher-up, Bridget Kelly, exchanged emails about a meeting a Christie staffer, Evan Ridley had with Sokolich. Earlier in the conversation, Kelly indicated she was “fucking furious” and “irate” with Ridley for not returning to the office after attending meetings. However, Kelly was clearly separately upset he met with Sokolich without asking for approval.
“Why did he think it was ok to meet with Sokolich?” Kelly wrote, later adding, “He should not have met with Fort Lee without approval.”
On Aug. 22, 2013, Renna and Kelly emailed each other about a luncheon for the Fort Lee Regional Chamber of Commerce where Christie’s lieutenant governor would be in attendance. Kelly expressed concern “the mayor” would attend.
“Not necessarily if we don’t tell him,” Renna wrote.
“Correct,” Kelly replied. “Good call.”
On the first day of the lane closures, Sept. 9, 2013, Kelly emailed Ridley and Renna to verify whether either of them had recently spoken with Sokolich. Three days later, while the closures were still in effect, Renna notified Kelly that Ridley received a call from Sokolich, who was “extremely upset” about the closures, which caused gridlock and substantial delays in emergency response times throughout Fort Lee.
“Good,” Kelly replied.
In her testimony last week, Renna said that, as questions about the closures mounted, Kelly made a late night phone call asking her to delete that email exchange. Renna said she forwarded a copy of the email to a personal account before deleting it because she found Kelly’s request “strange.”
Christie’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider about the documents Monday. An internal review conducted by lawyers hired by the governors office released in March concluded Kelly was one of only two “knowingly participated” in the plan to shut the lanes “at least in some part, for some ulterior motive to target Mayor Sokolich.” That report found Christie “did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes.”
The newly released documents also included summaries of Renna’s interviews with the lawyers who compiled the review. In her testimony last week, Renna indicated there were “inaccuracies” in the lawyers’ summary of their conversation with her. Renna, who denied having any involvement in the plan to shut the lanes, also said she believed Kelly “participated” in the closures, but was not the “architect.”
View all the new documents below.
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